Over the past year, climate impacts were felt more intensely and more frequently by more people—and Americans took notice. But analyses by DailyClimate.org and Media Matters found declining media coverage of global warming in 2012.

But, take heart, there were a few surprising bright spots in 2012 too.

Keeping us in the dark

It certainly didn’t help that climate change barely came up during the US presidential campaign in 2012, but according to DailyClimate.org’s archive of media coverage, climate change reporting worldwide continued its three-year slide, falling another 2 percent in 2012. The decline was smaller than in past years. But by DailyClimate.org’s reckoning, 2012 still saw the fewest number of published climate stories since 2009.

Media Matters reports that broadcast news outlets devoted very little time to climate change in 2012, following a downward trend since 2009.

Media Matters also shows that since 2009, climate coverage on the Sunday morning line of up talk shows has declined every year. According to the report, “In 2012, the Sunday shows spent less than 8 minutes on climate change, down from 9 minutes in 2011, 21 minutes in 2010, and over an hour in 2009.”

What’s worse, they show that the vast majority of the Sunday talking heads coverage—89 percent—was about the politics, not necessarily the facts. In fact, in four years, Sunday shows have not quoted a single scientist on climate change. What’s more, only 11 percent of coverage acknowledged scientific consensus on global warming. Fully 44 percent failed to correct a guest who questioned the science.

Strangely, Media Matters reports that in 2012, the Sunday shows did not quote a single Democratic politician on climate change. It was Republicans whose voices were heard:

Most of the politicians quoted were Republican presidential candidates, including Rick Santorum, who went unchallenged when he called global warming “junk science” on ABC’s This Week. More than half of climate mentions on the Sunday shows were Republicans criticizing those who support efforts to address climate change. This imbalance was also present, though less dramatic, on the nightly news programs, which quoted 60 percent Republicans and 40 percent Democrats on climate change.

The bright spots?

On the brighter side, Media Matters shows that broadcast outlets’ evening “nightly news” coverage of climate change increased slightly, driven mostly by extreme weather. “The nightly news shows devoted just under an hour to climate change in 2012, up from 38 minutes in 2011 but significantly less than in 2009.” A whopping 69 percent of that coverage had to do with extreme weather experienced in the US, 17 percent of coverage was driven by scientific findings, and 12 percent was driven by political stories related to climate change.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a matter of minutes here: CBS Evening News covered climate change the most for a total of 22 minutes, while NBC Nightly News covered climate change the least at 17 minutes.

In contrast to the delinquent Sunday shows, Media Matters reports that two-thirds of those interviewed or quoted on the nightly news programs’ coverage of climate change in 2012 were scientists.

Stories linking climate change to sea-rise, weird weather and other events showed an all-time high, according to DailyClimate.org’s archives: Around 5,800 articles were published that linked climate disruption to extreme weather, 37 percent more than 2011 and 25 percent more than the peak in 2009.

And, according to DailyClimate.org, “newspaper editorial boards, after growing markedly silent on the topic in 2010 and 2011, gave slightly more voice to the issue in 2012.” They count 633 editorials for the year—nearly 10 percent more than in 2011.

As DailyClimate.org points out, according to analysis from the University of Colorado, the New York Times published the most climate stories and had the biggest increase in coverage among the five largest US daily papers. But just as things were getting good, the Times dismantled its dedicated environmental reporting desk. There just aren’t that many dedicated environmental reporters and editors anymore. In fact, as Inside Climate News reports, you can count them on two hands (adding a few toes):

Once the Times’ environmental desk is dismantled, the nation’s top five newspapers by readership—the Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal—will have about a dozen reporters and a handful of editors among them whose primary responsibility is to cover the environment. The New York Times has yet to reassign its reporters so a precise tally is not possible.

The Los Angeles Times will be the only one among the five to have a designated environment desk.

So, thank goodness for another bright spot: the rise of specialized news outlets. As DailyClimate.org reports:

Making up ground in 2012 were a proliferating number of specialized media sites, like Climate Central, which published at least 368 stories last year largely via two reporters, Andrew Freedman and Michael Lemonick; and Inside Climate News, which published some 157 pieces. Scientific American and The Hill, a Congressional newspaper focusing on lobbying and politics, also covered the issue aggressively in 2012, with 169 and 202 stories respectively from the two publications.

Those specialized outlets—as well as the many bloggers writing on the topic—tend to push climate news into more mainstream and general publications, say editors and researchers.

For anybody pitching (or looking to read) climate related news stories, DailyClimate.org’s list of the 54 reporters who wrote 30 or more stories about climate change last year is a handy guide.

The beginnings of an upward trend?

Also, depending on how researchers tracked and tallied coverage, the year looked slightly different. This could be good news, as some media analysts found a rebound in climate coverage in 2012, especially later in the year.

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  • Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, found that ABC, CBS and NBC aired 29 stories—compared with 15 stories in 2011. Unlike Media Matters, he didn’t count Fox News in the mix. Still, that’s up by nearly double.

    An analysis by Bill Kovarik, professor of communications at Radford University in Virginia, of the Lexis Nexis media database found that the four largest US daily newspapers—Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Washington Post—published a total of 1,770 stories on climate change last year, 10 percent more than 2011’s tally (but 11 percent below 2010).

    Similarly, the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado  saw an uptick across all media in 2012, including foreign press outlets and the five largest US daily newspapers.

    If there are upticks, they are likely due to coverage, later in 2012, of hurricane Sandy in September, as well as the UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar in November and December. It remains to be seen whether or not this is the beginning of a longer media trend out of climate darkness.