Yesterday morning, I had my first “Welcome to Harrisburg, kiddo” experience when Representative Vitali’s climate change press conference began at 11:oo am. Inside the media center, there were two folks sitting in front of me, a senate staffer to my left and three news cameras directly behind me. As of this morning, I am beginning to believe that I was the only print journalist who attended the press conference. Besides my earlier article for the Rick Smith Show, the only other media coverage came from NorthCentralPA.com, which aggregated Greg Vitali’s press release, and the local Fox 43 news affiliate, which had a barn burning 130 something word write up and short video on the event.
Sure, covering legislation that may never make it out of committee may not be the sexiest thing to ever occur, but the lack of media coverage on yesterday’s climate change press conference falls right in line with the lack of media coverage on the issue as a whole.
Since 2009, Media Matters has been tracking the minutes of climate change segments on the Sunday morning shows and the major news networks. In the past 5 years, 2009 was the peak for climate change coverage at 205 total minutes between the networks and the Sunday shows. In 2013, there was a total of 129 minutes dedicated towards climate change – 27 of which were on the Sunday shows, and in 2014 there was a raise to 154 total minutes with the largest gains coming in the Sunday shows.
In August, John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, broke the internet when he called out traditional media’s “play it down the middle” style of reporting. When someone is demonstrating that there is a thing called climate change, the mainstream media has to be “fair and balanced” so they have to invite a climate skeptic to make it look like there’s a real debate happening. John Oliver destroyed that “play it down the middle” style of journalism that we are used to by having Bill Nye and 96 other “scientists” and 3 climate deniers.
Print coverage of climate change hasn’t fared too well over the last five years either. According to Science Policy at the University of Colorado, climate change coverage among the nation’s five major newspapers (Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and Los Angles Times) peaked in December 2009 with 510 articles, 165 of which came from the New York Times. It took until November 2014 for press coverage on the issue to get close to its 2009 peak, but even then, there were only 352 articles published. With last summer being one of the hottest summers on record, you’d think there would have been a significant increase in coverage? Wrong. From June through September, the big five reported on climate change 256, 202,158 and 308 times, respectively.
One excuse I’ve heard for the lack of coverage at yesterday’s press conference was that it occurred on a non-session day. Another is that it shows how our print media has been worn thin because of news room cuts. There are others, of course. Fact of the matter is that if we are to have these debates in a public space, especially on one of the most pressing issues of our time, it is the responsibility of the media to do its job. At the press conference, Representative Vitali compared climate change to medical marijuana usage and same-sex marriage, both issues that have hit tipping points over a 10-year period. With the dismal coverage of climate change in the mainstream media outlets and local newspapers, how is this debate supposed to reach its tipping point so we can finally start to act?