* More than 200 media outlets and journalists partnered together with activists to coordinate and hype climate change news before the 2019 U.N. climate summit.
* Two of the largest media outlets — BuzzFeed News and HuffPo — did not disclose their role in the project to their readers, a Daily Caller News Foundation review found.
* The project raises questions about whether journalists should work side-by-side with activists to hype climate change.
Over 250 news outlets and journalists partnered with Columbia University School of Journalism’s flagship magazine to shape control of “climate crisis” coverage in the lead up to the United Nations climate conference. The coverage-coordination initiative included directing how much time, space and prominence should be devoted to the coverage, and asking that climate “news” be added to seemingly unrelated stories.
Some of the biggest media outlets in the country, such as CBS and Bloomberg, joined the effort. 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. More troubling, a number of the major outlets that joined did not disclose participation to their readers.
In addition to CBS and Bloomberg, the effort, called Covering Climate Now, involved BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, The Daily Beast, the Center for Public Integrity, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Slate, Vanity Fair and The Weather Channel, among many others. BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post were among the major outlets that did not disclose the coordination. When asked by the Daily Caller News Foundation, the lack of disclosure was criticized by the Society of Professional Journalists.
The coordination effort was organized in part by Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a nonprofit that represents professional journalists and was traditionally focused primarily on journalism ethics. Covering Climate Now’s founders hope to continue elevating climate news even after the project ends. The effort’s target was the lead-up to, and coverage of, the U.N. “Climate Action Summit,” held Sept. 15-23.
BuzzFeed News reached more than 27 million unique views between September and October, according to Quantcast, a website measuring audience size. BuzzFeed is owned by Jonah Peretti, an internet entrepreneur who founded the outlet in 2006 to track viral online content, and the left-leaning HuffPo is owned by Verizon Communications. Media tycoon Arianna Huffington originally founded HuffPo in 2005 with the help of Peretti.
Covering Climate Now’s founders kicked off the project in April and announced in May that they would ask partners to devote a week to climate-related news, starting in September. The Nation environmental correspondent Mark Hertsgaard co-founded the project under the assumption that the news outlets don’t cover climate change as urgently as he thinks they should.
WaPo and others did not contribute because they believe Covering Climate Now has the “aroma” of advocacy, he complained in September.
“We believe that every news organization in America, and many around the world, can play a part,” CJR posted May 22. 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.”
Covering Climate Now has not responded to the DCNF’s request for comment.
Much of the group’s coverage leading up to the U.S. climate summit focused on Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl who traveled to the U.S. in August on a racing yacht. Her visit was designed to galvanize American support for policies that seek to tackle climate change.
Thunberg’s activism and Covering Climate Now’s media blitz seemed to fall flat with the crowd of United Nations diplomats: No major promises were made to tackle climate change at the summit. The European Union, for instance, didn’t go along with environmentalists’ wishes and set a goal to be carbon neutral by mid-century out of fear that such ambitions would tank its member state’s struggling economies.