Each morning, I open my laptop or phone and scroll through the headlines on The New York Times, The Washington Post and then hop over to Fox News. It began as an exercise to see how different media sources framed a story, something I learned from a professor this semester.
The two legacy newspapers and Fox News agree on little, frame stories differently and often report entirely different stories. But they are similar on one issue.
Some may remember when, back in early November, a group of 11,000 scientists came together to warn of a “climate emergency.” All three news outlets reported it to varying degrees. The Washington Post ran a short letter to the editor, which hoped the new study would finally break governments out of their stupor and act.
But then the news cycle moved on. Impeachment proceedings ramped up. Elections happened. Another forest fire in California. Thanksgiving. The emergency dropped from the news cycle.
I reviewed the same three news sources again before writing this. Around 7 a.m. on Dec. 1, The Washington Post published an Associated Press story about the United Nations secretary-general warning of a “point of no return” on climate change that is “hurtling toward us” and government actions are “utterly inadequate.” By 6 p.m. the same day, it was off the Post’s home page entirely.
The New York Times and Fox News did not report the AP’s story or report on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ warning themselves. To AP’s credit, the story was still on its front page the evening after publishing — under two impeachment stories.
Once again, the news, and our attention with it, moved on. Traditional news values tell aspiring journalists to always search for a new angle or story that will engage readers — don’t rewrite the same story. In a struggling industry, we are told to meet readers where they are, even if that means burying the fate of our planet under the Jeffrey Epstein saga. Sex sells; the planet crumbling before our eyes does not.
As news consumers, we are at the mercy of media conglomerates telling us what they believe is most important by making some news more visible than others. The editors at the New York Times chose a story about snow sports in China as one of their “Editor’s Picks” the same day Secretary-General Guterres’ warning was reported by other outlets.
Climate change isn’t new, nor are the warnings that are growing louder by the day. If the warnings all sound the same, that’s because they are. Each dramatic example of climate change, be it a hurricane, forest fire or a heat wave, is just rehashing what climate scientists have been telling us for years. Their message has not changed, but we just won’t listen. With enough repetition, we will tune it out. That’s human nature, but when the issue is our livelihood, no repetition is too many.