December 9, 2009

Global Warming Generates Little Heat in the Media

2007 2008 2009
Overall 1.7 1.7 1.5
Radio 2.8 2.3 1.6
Network TV 2.3 1.8 1.3
Newspaper 2.2 2.3 2.7
Online 1.2 1.2 1
Cable 0.7 0.7 0.8

1.5% – Percentage of overall coverage devoted to the environment in 2009

The period from November 30-December 6, 2009, produced one of the largest weeks of environmental coverage since PEJ began tracking it in January 2007. And it wasn’t that big a number.

The topic accounted for 2.5% of the newshole, with attention focused on the UN Climate Summit and emails from the research center that some contended pointed to possible manipulation of climate data and generated an outcry from global warming skeptics.

Some of last week’s coverage came from conservative talk hosts who argued that the mainstream press was not paying enough attention to the “Climate-gate” story, as the email episode was dubbed to suggest something large and nefarious. But while coverage of “Climate-gate” began to increase late in the week, news about the environment has traditionally had a tough time breaking into the headlines.

Thus far in 2009, only 1.5% of the coverage studied has been about environmental issues. To provide perspective, the subject has generated less attention than celebrities (1.9%) and sports (1.8%). And this year’s coverage represents a slight decrease from both 2008 and 2007, when the subject accounted for 1.7% of the overall newshole.

That slight drop in coverage comes despite the fact that the single biggest week of environmental coverage (5.4% of the newshole) since the NCI began in January 2007 occurred from May 18-24, 2009, when President Obama announced new emission standards for cars.

The next biggest spikes in coverage in the past three years included the week of April 1-6, 2007, (5.3% of the newshole) when the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate car emissions, and the week of January 28-February 2, 2007, when a UN climate report found that humans were very likely the cause of climate change (4.9%).

Still, it’s worth noting that in no single week, has the environment generated the level of attention (6.4% of newshole) that the Tiger Woods scandal attracted last week.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ