Throwing a billion news consumers behind coverage of the climate crisis

A CBS News poll showing that most Americans want to tackle the climate crisis right away. A PBS interview with Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist from Sweden who recently arrived in the US on an emissions-free yacht. A story in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in West Virginia, mapping the growing conversation about climate change in the coal-rich state. A whole issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. A video by The Intercept in which Naomi Klein, the writer and activist, explains how the plastic straws hawked by the Trump campaign help explain wrongheaded conservative—and liberal—responses to the climate crisis. (“What we are witnessing is a temper tantrum against the mere suggestion that there are limits to what we can consume,” Klein says.) A Variety interview with Javier Bardem.

These are among the stories published as part of Covering Climate Now, a major new initiative from CJR and The Nation, in partnership with The Guardian, that aims to increase the visibility of the climate crisis in our media. Covering Climate Now’s debut project—eight days of dedicated climate coverage by partner news organizations—launched yesterday and will end a week from today, to coincide with the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations in New York. The initiative isn’t limited to the US: in total, more than 250 outlets from around the world signed on, throwing a combined audience of more than 1 billion people behind the project. Our partners include Bloomberg; Agence France-Presse; the Toronto Star; La Repubblica, in Italy; Asahi Shimbun, in Japan; El País, in Spain; News18, in India; Daily Maverick, in South Africa, and the Daily Mirror, in the UK. (You can find a full list here.)

Related: Covering Climate Now signs on over 170 news outlets

In a piece out this morning, Mark Hertsgaard, environment correspondent at The Nation, and Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of CJR, who are leading the initiative, write that the global response has been “amazing, and gratifying.” It is heartening, they write, “that the press may at last be waking up to the defining story of our time… We had a hunch that there was a critical mass of reporters and news outlets that wanted to do more climate coverage, and hoped that by highlighting that critical mass, we could also help to grow it. That’s exactly what has happened.”

Still, roadblocks remain. Some outlets hesitated before signing on to Covering Climate Now, or decided not to take part. Some said they were already pulling their weight, and declined to collaborate beyond their existing output. Others, Hertsgaard and Pope write, find the sheer scale of the climate story daunting. Some news organizations have no idea how or where to make a start on it. Others have taken a defeatist posture—it’s too late for the press to make any difference, they say, and in any case, news consumers find climate stories depressing, and click away.

This latter concern is not (or at least need not be) true: as Hertsgaard and Pope point out, “News organizations that have embraced climate coverage find that audiences—particularly younger viewers, listeners, and readers—are, in fact, enormously engaged in the coverage. They may get angry or energized or organized by climate stories, but they don’t tune them out.” And besides, not covering a topic because it might be depressing or challenging is an odd logic for newsrooms to adopt. Another common concern among reporters and editors holds that climate coverage smacks of activism. But this logic, too, is flawed: it’s journalists’ job to shine an undimmed light on unvarnished truths, wherever that may take us.

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As we have seen repeatedly in the Trump era, such attitudes aren’t limited to climate coverage—but when it comes to the climate, the stakes are higher than they are anywhere else. Going forward, Covering Climate Now will try to overcome these doubts, while working with partners to identify the challenges they face in their climate coverage—a lack of expertise, for example, or a lack of reporting resources in an industry stretched to breaking point.

“This week of coverage we really see as the beginning of this conversation. What we want to do is have people commit to this, do this intense week of coverage, and then come back to us and say: here’s what we learned,” Pope told CNN’s Brian Stelter on Stelter’s podcast last week. “What we’re hoping to get out of this week is some great coverage, we’re hoping to sort of connect people. But we’re really hoping to get people to start thinking about what they have to do different.” Pope added, “I just think that we’re going to look back on this in a few years and shake our heads and wonder, like, where we were? 

Below, more on Covering Climate Now:


Other notable stories:

  • A new book by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, reporters at The New York Times, reveals a new allegation of sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh; a college classmate recalled Kavanaugh pushing his penis into a female student’s hand at a party and told the FBI about it, but the bureau did not investigate. (Full disclosure: Kelly is married to Pope, CJR’s editor and publisher.) Over the weekend, the Times was criticized for publishing the allegation in its opinion section, and for promoting an article containing it in a tweet that began: “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun…” The Times pointed out that the piece ran in its Sunday Review section, which frequently publishes excerpts of books by the paper’s reporters; it conceded that the tweet was “clearly inappropriate and offensive.” In light of the new claim, five Democratic presidential candidates called for Kavanaugh to be impeached.
  • Edward Snowden also has a book out: in Permanent Record, Snowden opens up about his life, and what led him to leak details of the NSA’s mass-surveillance operations to the press. The book, the Times’s Jennifer Szalai writes, “is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about Snowden”—but Snowden tells The Guardian that he thinks public hostility toward him has softened in the US. Today, Snowden is slated to join CBS This Morning and The 11th Hour With Brian Williams from Russia, where he still lives in exile.
  • David Cameron, the former prime minister of Britain who resigned following the country’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, is also part of the new-book club; Cameron uses his memoir, in part, to express his regrets over Brexit, and to slam his eventual successor Boris Johnson for behaving “appallingly” in campaigning for it. The Guardian was criticized for writing, in an editorial, that Cameron has only known “privileged pain”; his son died in 2009, aged six. The paper apologized. (Also in the UK, Johnson used an interview to compare himself to the Hulk; Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk, shot back.)
  • Yesterday, Slate launched “Who counts?”, a new project that seeks to center questions around voter suppression and distrust in our electoral processes, among other issues of representation. “Far too often, voting rights are a dormant topic up until the week before a general election,” Dahlia Lithwick writes. “But if you still believe that democracy matters—as I want to—then we must be focused on the right to vote, right now.”
  • New York’s Reeves Wiedeman assesses what be might next for Vice, as the company grapples with declining revenue and web traffic, and reported cash-flow issues. “The lawlessness that characterized an earlier era of Vice, which remains a key component of the brand’s appeal, has also given way behind the scenes to the kind of rigid human-resources apparatus of a company looking to be taken seriously.”
  • Last year, Elon Musk emailed Ryan Mac, a reporter at BuzzFeed, doubling down on his claim that a cave diver who helped rescue a trapped Thai soccer team was a pedophile. Mac published the email; the diver sued Musk for defamation. On Friday, BuzzFeed pushed back on Musk’s efforts to force Mac to testify in the case: Musk, it said, “clearly harbors personal animosity against Mac,” and is trying to retaliate against his reporting.
  • Late last week, the singer Sam Smith, who came out as nonbinary in March, said on social media that they will use the pronouns “they/them” going forward. The Associated Press detailed the announcement in a story—but used he/him pronouns throughout when referring to Smith. The article was subsequently corrected.
  • For CJR, Karen K. Ho reports from the Toronto International Film Festival, which pledged to give a fifth of its press passes to journalists from under-represented backgrounds. “But to walk the red carpet at TIFF with critics of color is to see how, even with new diversity programs in place, there are still gates closed,” Ho writes.
  • And an appeals court in Turkey ordered five staffers for the newspaper Cumhuriyet released from jail. Turkey is the world’s most prolific jailer of journalists. Last year, Shawn Carrié and Asmaa Omar profiled Cumhuriyet, “the last independent newsroom in Turkey,” for CJR.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.