It was a reporting project so steeped in advocacy that even the Washington Post and New York Times backed away.
But others, including Huffington Post, BuzzFeed News, CBS and Bloomberg did contribute, usually without informing readers of the advocacy nature of the project. And now, journalism outlets elsewhere are beginning to question how media that professes to cover climate change in a balanced and factual way could have participated in a grassroots effort to boost Greta Thunberg and the United Nations’ recent climate conference.
More than 200 media outlets and journalists “partnered together with activists to coordinate and hype climate change news before the 2019 UN climate summit,” White wrote. BuzzFeed and HuffPo never did disclose to readers their connections to the advocacy group, and others did so only on an irregular basis, White wrote.
“But others, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, declined to participate in a project they reportedly feared appeared activist in nature.”
White wrote that, in addition to BuzzFeed and HuffPost, the Daily Beast, the Center for Public Integrity, a leftist-funded investigative reporting outfit that works with newspapers, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Slate, Vanity Fair and The Weather Channel, among others, took part in the project but did not disclose they were coordinating with an activist group that had an easily discernible leftist slant on environmental news.
The project, called Covering Climate Now, asked partners to “devote a week to climate-related news, starting in September.”
Columbia Journalism Review organized the coordination effort in conjunction with Mark Hertsgaard, environmental correspondent for The Nation, a venerable liberal publication who believes “news outlets don’t cover climate change as urgently as he thinks they should,” White wrote.
A post on the Columbia Journalism Review site from May 22 said “We believe that every news organization in America, and many around the world, can play a part. Sometimes that will mean committing your newsroom to important and high-impact stories. Other times it will mean sharing your content, engaging your community, or adding a few lines of climate information to stories that wouldn’t otherwise have them.”
Much of the coverage focused on Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who traveled to the United States on a racing yacht and spoke at the climate conference.
Neither the coordinated media blitz, nor Thunberg’s appearance swayed the UN diplomats. No promises were made, and a wish list submitted by environmentalists to the European Union – which included adopting a goal to be carbon-free by 2050 – was largely ignored “out of fear that such ambitions would tank its member states’ struggling economies,” White wrote.
In a story posted to the Columbia Journalism Review site explaining the project, Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote that, in the 30 years since Bill McKibben warned us of the threat of man-made climate change, “the response from most quarters of the media, especially in the US, has been either silence or, worse, getting the story wrong. … Spun by the fossil-fuel industry and vexed by their own business problems, media outlets often leaned on a false balance between the views of genuine scientists and those of paid corporate mouthpieces. The media’s minimization of the looming disaster is one of our great journalistic failures.”
Its list of “partners” includes Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg and Getty Images among wire services, the Christian Scientist, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, National Catholic Reporter, New Jersey Star-Ledger, The Oklahoman, San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Times among its newspapers, and Rolling Stone, Scientific American, Talking Points Memo, Vox and Vanity Fair among its websites.