The New York Times is dropping the ball on climate change

The public editor confirms that the paper's green coverage has been declining in quantity and quality

By Lindsay Abrams

Published November 25, 2013 7:32PM (EST)

                     (Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

As a year that began with the Times' dismantling of its nine-person environment desk, closely followed by the shuttering of its Green blog, draws to a close, public editor Margaret Sullivan revisited allegations that the paper of record has been slacking on climate coverage.

She confirmed, in a column published over the weekend, that there's been a drop in both the quantity and quality of climate change coverage over a six-month period this year, compared to the same period in 2012. While qualifying that more coverage isn't always better, she wrote that the number of articles covering climate change dropped by a third -- from 362 to 242 -- and that "the amount of deep, enterprising coverage" similarly declined.

And this year, there were only three front-page stories focused on climate change, compared to nine the year before -- which still isn't much to brag about. “Simply assuming that this is an interesting controversy that we should check in on occasionally is not correct. The survival of human civilization is at risk," said former Vice President Al Gore, whom Sullivan asked to weigh in. "The news media should be making this existential crisis the No. 1 topic they cover.” According to Sullivan, some changes in that direction are on the way.

But while strong, consistent coverage is important, there is one thing Sullivan left out. At Grist, John Upton calls attention to a recent column by climate scientist Michael Mann, who accuses the Times of giving climate deniers -- particularly Koch brothers associate Richard Muller -- a platform to mislead the public. In cases such as those, the Times is better off not saying anything at all.

Lindsay Abrams

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Al Gore Climate Change Margaret Sullivan The New York Times