The Media Isn't Talking About Climate Change Enough — Here's Why, and How You Can Help Change That

Reading a newspaper

Climate change is consistently being left out of relevant reporting about climate change-caused disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding.

We put together a guide on how to contact local and national media — and what to say to encourage them to change their reporting.

Climate change feels overwhelming. Beyond the impacts on human life, we're already seeing, what makes it so paralyzing is all the areas of life where it intersects with other injustices. Extreme weather events already disproportionately impact low-income, marginalized, and under-resourced communities. The scientific community agrees that climate change is intensifying already extreme weather events — and consequently, intensifying the devastation to those communities.

Consistent weather patterns and seasons are critical to the production of our food. Climate change is disrupting those weather patterns, the harvests that depend on them, and our food supply which depends on those harvests. Again, this cycle disproportionately impacts marginalized communities around the globe which already lack access to nutritious food.

Climate change caused by human activities is an undisputed fact that’s already impacting so many areas of life. And the science is clear: we need to drastically change systems and behaviors if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of it. 

Positively, a growing number of people around the world are acknowledging this reality, and according to a recent Pew Research study, 80 percent of people surveyed across 17 countries said they were willing to make some or a lot of changes in how they live and work to help address global climate change.

As we’re collectively recognizing that climate change is already significantly affecting our everyday lives, we’re seeing many mainstream news outlets consistently under-report on (and even fail to simply mention) climate change issues.

But the good news is that, as thoughtful media consumers, we can play a role in shifting this for the better.

Climate change is not being covered enough in broadcast and cable news 

In a recent analysis by Media Matters for America, during the record-breaking Western United States heat wave in July 2021, 38 percent of broadcast and cable news segments from July 8-12 connected it to climate change, and 36 percent of wildfire coverage from July 21-27 made the connection.

In a combined 95 segments on broadcast and cable TV news shows from August 11-18 on various global extreme weather events, just over 30 percent of them referenced climate change — and only 13 percent referenced the latest IPCC Report on Climate Change. 

While this is an improvement over years past, it’s still not enough.

Notably, in the recent coverage of Hurricane Ida (which made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2021), of 774 total news segments covering the storm from August 27-30, only 34 of them, or 4 percent connected the extreme weather event to climate change, according to Media Matters for America.

On July 20, 2021, when Blue Origin launched into space, it received almost as much media coverage as climate change did in all of 2020. 

2019 was the second-warmest year on record at the time, but news networks spent a combined 238 minutes on climate change, which was an improvement on the 142 minutes in 2018.

Many people still get their information from their local station (or national news) and it’s important that they give climate change the airtime it’s due.

Climate change coverage has improved in print news coverage

When it comes to print media, there is some good news to report. A recent study from the Media and Climate Change Observatory at the University of Colorado (MeCCO) found major print media outlets in five countries have been covering climate change factually, with 90 percent reporting the scientific consensus view over the last 15 years, and a small percentage reporting a “false balanced” or “denialist” view.

Previously, to be “unbiased,” print outlets would frequently cite “opposing” sources to human-caused climate change. That reporting has now mostly aligned with scientific consensus is really good news. 

And coverage isn’t where it needs to be globally, but it is increasing.

2004-2021 World Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global WarmingC
Credit: Boykoff, M., Aoyagi, M., Ballantyne, A.G., Benham, A., Chandler, P., Daly, M., Doi, K., Fernández-Reyes, R., Hawley, E., Jiménez Gómez, I., Lyytimäki, J., McAllister, L., McNatt, M., Mervaala, E., Mocatta, G., Nacu-Schmidt, A., Oonk, D., Osborne-Gowey, J., Pearman, O., Petersen, L.K., Simonsen, A.H., and Ytterstad, A. (2021). World Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global Warming, 2004-2021. Media and Climate Change Observatory Data Sets. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado.

We need to hold news media outlets accountable for poor climate change coverage

Even the news you get on social media generally comes from the same place: journalists and media outlets. Most information that people get on a daily basis originally comes from their local news station or newspaper, or a national news station or newspaper.

Most of these journalists have a code of ethics, are generally committed to fair and accurate reporting, and seek to uphold high journalistic standards. 

Leaving factual information surrounding climate change — which is backed by decades of research and evidence — out of relevant reporting does not align with these standards. The good news is: most media outlets are open to, and even welcoming of feedback from their audience!

And we all have a role to play in helping to give feedback when we see poor reporting. The next time you see a news outlet leave climate change out of a relevant story, let them know that you noticed and that you want them to correct the story and do better in the future.

Follow our guide below on how to contact journalists and media outlets and what to say to help them improve their climate coverage:

How to contact news media outlets about improving their climate coverage

Step 1: Take notice when you see a media outlet fail to cover climate change

In the coming days and weeks, you’ll likely find yourself reading an article or watching a news segment on a natural disaster, weather anomaly, or access to food and water, only to be surprised to reach the end without even a brief mention of how climate change played a role in this story. (You’ll probably be even more likely to take notice now that you’ve read our article.)

Taking notice of this is a great opportunity to take action and create change. And the good news, it’s easy.

Step 2: Find the journalist’s or outlet’s publicly available contact information

When you’re watching the local news, they’ll likely mention a phone number or website where you can send in tips, and send in feedback. Their website will have a “Contact Us” link — it’s usually at the top or bottom of the page.

For national broadcast news, while they may not advertise a website or phone number on the show, they will likely have a way to contact them on their website.

When you’re reading a physical newspaper, look for a “Letters to the Editor” section. This section will include information on how you can submit a letter, too. 

If you’re reading a story online or through an app, look for that “Contact Us” link at the top or bottom of the webpage. Sometimes, a journalist’s byline will even include a link to email or get in touch with them. (Note: Especially for national outlets, this is a sign of a really good, reputable news publication!) 

Step 3: Write a respectful and constructive email

When composing your feedback, remember to be respectful. Good journalists spend days, weeks, sometimes even months and years researching their stories, vetting sources, working with colleagues, and gathering information — you want them to be receptive to your feedback, so be sure to acknowledge the important work they do. 

Present the information factually — because it is factual! Just as they would quote or cite any other research or factual information, climate change is a fact that deserves coverage in their story.

Use this sample script to help you get started:

Dear [News Outlet name, ie: Good Good Good] editorial team,

I wanted to thank you for your continued commitment to covering news relevant to me and my community. I believe strongly in the role of journalists and media outlets to hold power to account, sharing well-researched, fact-checked, fair, and balanced information that we all need to make choices in our lives individually, and as members of a collective society.

To that end, one of your recent [articles/segments] left out a critical piece of information. In the [article/segment], [Name of article or story covered], your reporting failed to reference the impact of climate change on this event.

Per the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in early August 2021, we have more evidence than ever proving that human activity involving the burning of fossil fuels has caused the climate to warm exponentially — and that warming climate directly affects weather patterns, intensifies already extreme weather events, destroys wildlife and ecosystems, farming, and arguably every aspect of life.

Leaving out this factual information does not uphold your journalistic standards. Readers need to be informed about the impact of climate change because it impacts their everyday life — and the IPCC report and the scientific community agree that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. You have a responsibility to your readers to inform them of what is happening in the immediate, and what they can expect in the coming days and years.

As the research concluded, human activity is to blame for these impacts, and we all need to be making significant, systemic changes to how we live our lives. Your readers are busy people, and are likely not spending the hours you do researching or fact-checking your reporting — because they trust you to. Readers won’t know that individually and collectively, we need to make those significant changes unless you provide accurate reporting about what’s actually happening — and climate change is happening.

Please [correct this article/update this segment] immediately, and include climate change in your future reporting. The IPCC has resources you can use to help source the information in your reporting, too!

Thank you, 

[Your name]

Final ways to make a difference

While a problem as large and significant as climate change can feel overwhelming and daunting — it’s important to remember that none of us have to be the singular person who solves this problem.

By finding small ways to have an outsized impact in the fight against climate change, you can feel confident that you’re doing your part, and then some.

Small, everyday, individual actions like recycling and being a conscious consumer are valuable — but when you take actions like contacting media outlets or lobbying your elected officials, you can affect a significant number of people positively and help change the larger systems that have led to climate change.

The great thing about actions like this is that they’re simple and easy to share. The next time you use this guide to reach out to a media outlet or journalist about a story, go a step further and share about the experience with your friends or on social media.

Even better, when you get a response back from the journalist or see a change in an outlet’s future reporting (which you absolutely will — if you continue these efforts over time), then celebrate that change publicly.

Positive changes should be encouraged and rewarded. Consider tagging the journalist and outlet in a post on social media, or even writing a public letter to the editor for publication in their outlet.

And lastly, while it’s important to play a role in changing the way that climate change is discussed in mainstream news, that doesn’t mean that you need to rely on subpar climate reporting as your primary source of news.

Some media outlets have intentionally built their ethos around climate reporting. Explore outlets like Grist, Mother Jones, Currently, and a growing number of other outlets — and intentionally support their work by sharing their content and becoming a subscriber. 

We're so glad to see progress being made in climate reporting, but we can't settle, because there's more work to be done. And we can play a role in it.

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September 21, 2021 1:27 PM
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