Climate Journalism: The Coverage Heats Up

InsideClimate News and Climate Central have dominated U.S. climate journalism, but The New York Times and Washington Post now are trying to catch up.

For about a decade, niche websites have dominated U.S. journalism coverage of climate change and policy responses to it.

General interest publications are putting a renewed focus on climate coverage.

Visual by Jason Blackeye/Unsplash

General news publications and broadcasters, as well as media outlets dedicated to science, have failed to consistently match the volume, quality, and depth of coverage published by outlets such as Climate Central and InsideClimate News, both of which are nonprofit, non-partisan organizations. InsideClimate reporters David Hasemyer, Elizabeth McGowan, and Lisa Song even won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for their coverage of a Michigan oil spill.

But after some shifting commitments on climate change and environmental coverage, The New York Times has devoted significant resources to this beat in the past few months. And The Washington Post is moving in a similar direction.

The Times’ approach involves a team of journalists dedicated to the climate and environment beat. Hannah Fairfield, who began her career as a graphics editor at the newspaper in 2000, started in February as the Times’ climate editor, a newly created position. Her experience also includes a two-year stint as graphics director at The Washington Post.

Fairfield’s team of reporters and editors includes John M. Broder, Coral Davenport, Henry Fountain, Justin Gillis, Nadja Popovich, John Schwartz, and Tatiana Schlossberg. Fairfield’s mission, she says, includes developing explanatory stories as well as stories with a visual component, such as video, photography and graphics.

At The Washington Post, a major Times competitor, climate change coverage is distributed across several desks and journalists, says Laura Helmuth, editor of the paper’s health, science, and environment team. Her writers include Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis, who cover climate change as part of their beat. Meteorologists Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz, along with financial reporters Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson also contribute. Suzanne Goldenberg, recently hired as an editor on the financial team, will work with Mooney and Mufson on an energy and environment blog. Rounding out the effort are several other political reporters who frequently cover climate policy and politics, including Juliet Eilperin, who focuses on the White House, and Lisa Rein, who deals with Congress.

In response to the Trump administration’s intense politicization of the issue, The Post now dedicates more resources to covering climate policy, says Helmuth. “We’re still greatly outnumbered by The New York Times’ dedicated climate staff,” she notes, “but that is the case for most departments.”

The Times’ Fairfield also notes a Trump factor, but in her case it involves the challenge of finding the right coverage balance between breaking climate policy news out of Washington, D.C., and stories about the global effects of climate change. “We have so much to cover in Washington right now, but there are really big stories about climate refugees and cities that are threatened and desperately trying to adapt to climate change,” she says.

The Times plans to make additional hires to its climate team. If it does, the paper could match or exceed the momentum and editorial staffing levels at InsideClimate News and Climate Central. Climate Central has an editorial team of about 12 reporters, editors, and multimedia designers and producers. InsideClimate employs 12 full-time reporters dedicated to covering climate science and policy, energy, and other environmental topics, says the outlet’s publisher David Sassoon. The site publishes daily news stories, features and enterprise pieces, and long-form investigations. Climate Central regularly publishes multimedia and interactive stories and reports, along with news and features. With media partners, InsideClimate integrates multimedia and explanatory journalism into its coverage.

InsideClimate’s mission has remained the same since its start in 2007, Sassoon says: “Holding leaders in government, industry and activism accountable for solutions.” He also welcomes the Times’ latest investment in covering climate. “It will benefit all of environmental journalism, us included,” he says.

The competition and added climate coverage across publications should benefit readers too—and ideally the state of our nation and others.

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