Reuters has long been one of the most prolific producers of climate change journalism, leading The New York Times and the Guardian for most climate-centric articles in 2011. But a new assessment lends credence to recent claims that the newswire is pulling back its coverage after the addition of a global-warming skeptic to the company’s editorial management.

On Tuesday, Media Matters for America ran a search of Reuters archives and found that the newswire had reduced its coverage of climate change-related issues by almost 50 percent in 2012. The watchdog website searched Reuters archives for the terms “climate change” and “global warming” during a six-month period between October 2010 and April 2011, and a comparable six-month span in 2012.

The factchecking expedition was ignited by David Fogarty, a Singapore-based correspondent who covered climate change for Reuters until 2012. Last week, Fogarty took to The Baron, an independent blog run by former employees of Reuters, to describe what he identified as a change in editorial direction after the company hired Paul Ingrassia, a veteran business reporter brought on in 2011 to revamp the company’s news strategy. Fogarty met Ingrassia last year at a work function, where the then-deputy editor in chief (now managing editor) identified himself as a climate-change skeptic. “Not a rabid skeptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate,” wrote Fogarty. Shortly thereafter, Fogarty wrote, it became difficult for him to get his reporting on the environment into print:

From very early in 2012, I was repeatedly told that climate and environment stories were no longer a top priority for Reuters and I was asked to look at other areas. Being stubborn, and passionate about my climate change beat, I largely ignored the directive.

By mid-October, I was informed that climate change just wasn’t a big story for the present, but that it would be if there was a significant shift in global policy, such as the US introducing an emissions cap-and-trade system.
Fogarty left Reuters in mid-December, two months after his climate beat was eliminated. Two other full-time environmental correspondents have been asked to shift their beat: Alister Doyle in Oslo and Deborah Zabarenko in Washington DC, Fogarty points out. (Based on Doyle’s author page, he still continues to write about the environment regularly.)

Media Matters timed its survey to compare the period before Ingrassia’s April 2011 hiring to the time after the start of his reign. Though there’s no way to directly attribute the changes to Ingrassia, the timeline checks out. (He did not return repeated calls for comment.) Media Matters found that Fogarty’s article count reflects an even stronger redirection than the wire service’s coverage as a whole:
In the six months before Ingrassia joined Reuters, Fogarty wrote 51 of 675 total articles on climate change (about 8 percent). During a comparable period under Ingrassia, Fogarty wrote only 10 articles on climate change (3 percent of 353 total stories).
It’s worth noting that most newsrooms around the country have reduced coverage of climate change-related issues since 2010. In 2011, Environment & Energy Publishing, which produces Greenwire, ClimateWire, and four other news services, estimated they reduced climate coverage by about 13 percent. According to an assessment published by The Daily Climate, The New York Times cut its global warming article count by 15 percent, and the Guardian slashed coverage by 21 percent that same year. (Reuters, too, dropped its climate coverage by 27 percent in 2011, before Ingrassia came aboard.)

Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis.