Reuters Climate Change Coverage Declined Significantly After "Skeptic" Editor Joined

New Analysis Backs Whistleblower's Claims

Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

A Media Matters study finds that Reuters' coverage of climate change declined by nearly 50 percent under the regime of the current managing editor, lending credence to a former reporter's claim that a "climate of fear" has gripped the agency.

David Fogarty, a former Reuters climate change correspondent, wrote that Managing Editor Paul Ingrassia, then serving as deputy editor-in-chief, identified himself as "a climate change sceptic" in 2012. As time went on, Fogarty alleged, "getting any climate change-themed story published got harder," as some desk editors "agonised" over decisions and allowed articles to become mired in bureaucracy. Eventually, amid a "climate of fear," Fogarty's role was "abolished."

An earlier report published by The Baron, an independent site that caters to current and former Reuters employees, similarly noted that in recent years the news service has been steered in a "new direction" in its climate change coverage, as evidenced by decreased attention, in-print "skepticism" and the reassignment of regional environment correspondents to other beats.

Reuters' Climate Coverage Declined 48% After "Skeptic" Editor Took Over

In line with claims from Fogarty and The Baron, a survey of coverage in the six months immediately prior to Ingrassia's appointment compared to an analogous period in 2012 found that Reuters filed 48 percent fewer articles on climate change under the new regime, despite the fact that the latter period featured the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a continuing fight over the European Union's proposal to impose a carbon tax on international flights, record heat in the U.S. and other noteworthy developments.

In the six months before Ingrassia joined Reuters, Fogarty wrote 51 of 675 total articles on climate change (about 8 percent). During a comparable period under Ingrassia, Fogarty wrote only 10 articles on climate change (3 percent of 353 total stories).

The vast majority of coverage in both time periods was focused on policy (59 percent and 63 percent, respectively), as opposed to science (11 percent and 12 percent) and primarily quoted politicians, political officials or government officials (43 percent and 41 percent) on climate change.

Several Reuters Reports Have Adopted A Misleading Frame On Climate This Year

This year, Reuters' shift has apparently continued apace. An April 2013 article titled "Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown," later promoted by Drudge Report, claimed that short-term temperature variability "has exposed gaps" in scientists' understanding of climate change, but neglected to quote any scientists on the issue -- or refer to an article filed by the same reporter one week prior, which explained some of the alleged "gaps."

On July 15, a Reuters story covering new research on sea level rise included disclaimers that one scientist called "unrelated climate skeptics nonsense."

Earlier that month, Ingrassia announced that Editor Michael Stott, with whom he had reportedly partaken in "open disagreement," would be leaving after some 25 years with the company. Ingrassia and Stott previously quarreled over a report on Hurricane Sandy that quoted scientists on the link between climate change and more intense hurricanes.

METHODOLOGY: We searched the Factiva database for Reuters News articles on "climate change or global warming" between October 19, 2010-April 11, 2011 and April 19, 2012-October 19, 2012. We included full articles or substantial mentions (more than one paragraph) of climate change or climate policies.

UPDATE (7/26/13): According to the Columbia Journalism Review, reporters at Reuters have said that they feel "pressure from management to 'balance' [their] climate change stories by including the views of global-warming skeptics" since Ingrassia was hired:

But rumblings in the Reuters newsroom signal that the most recent dip in climate coverage is accompanied by a shift in editorial angle. I spoke on background to several journalists working at Reuters, who said that since Ingrassia was hired, they've felt pressure from management to add "balance" to climate change stories by including the views of global-warming skeptics. "I'm really glad someone outside the company is looking into this," said one staffer who did not wish to be identified. "I think this is the most worrying thing any of us have seen here."

Shauna Theel, Charlie Rafkin, and Connor Land contributed to this report.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
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