Justifying the Devolution of Journalistic standards.

This research paper is five years old, but is an interesting glimpse into the reasoning and justifications for lopsided reporting of AGW. Read the paper, discuss. Yuck~ctm

Climate Change in the Newsroom: Journalists’  Evolving Standards of Objectivity When Covering Global Warming.

Sara Shipley Hiles1 and Amanda Hinnant
DOI: 10.1177/1075547014534077
Full Paper here:


This study investigated how highly experienced environmental journalists view the professional norms of objectivity when covering climate change over time. Elite journalists were sought, and all had a minimum of 10 years of experience in climate coverage. In-depth interviews revealed a paradox: Most still profess belief in objectivity even as they reject or redefine it. Participants said that journalists should use objective practices and refrain from revealing their own biases, including advocating for the environment. However, participants have radically redefined the component of objectivity known as balance. They now advocate a weight-of-evidence approach, where stories reflect scientific consensus.


Climate change is arguably the world’s biggest environmental story—and for journalists, it may be the toughest (Ward, 2008). Not only is the story scientifically complex, it is politically treacherous. With American opinion about anthropogenic climate change polarized along partisan lines (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2012), journalists have suffered withering criticism left and right—even veiled death threats (Revkin, 2009). Traditionally, journalists could shield themselves from attack through practicing “objectivity” (e.g., Mindich, 1998; Schiller, 1978; Schudson, 1978; Tuchman, 1978). A key component of traditional journalistic objectivity is “balance,” in which reporters try to tell “both sides of the story” (Tuchman, 1972, p. 665). With climate change, however, traditional balance led journalists and the public massively astray. Public relations (PR) firms and dissenting scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry sowed doubt and misinformation about the reality of human-caused climate change (Gelbspan, 2005; J. Greenberg, Knight, & Westersund, 2011), and journalists repeated the information in an attempt to be “balanced” (Gelbspan, 2005). This pattern led to the charge of “balance as bias,” in which Boykoff and Boykoff (2004) skewered the media for creating an appearance of significant scientific debate over anthropogenic climate change, when, in fact, there was little disagreement. This lopsided coverage falsely framed climate change as a “debate” in the public eye (Boykoff, 2010). Scholars have noted problematic climate coverage from the 1980s through about 2005 (Antilla, 2005; Brossard, Shanahan, & McComas, 2004, Liu, Vedlitz, & Alston, 2008; McComas & Shanahan, 1999; Trumbo, 1996; Zehr, 2000). However, not long after Boykoff and Boykoff’s (2004) influential study, coverage appeared to change. By 2007, Boykoff (2007a) found that media coverage more closely reflected scientific consensus.

By 2010, Block (2010) noted that most journalists had stopped covering climate change as a scientific controversy.

How do journalists perceive this shift? A number of previous studies have examined climate change coverage through content analyses of U.S. newspapers (e.g., Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004). This study asked journalists themselves to explain the evolution—and to discuss what role their perception of journalistic norms played. More specifically, this study asked how an elite group of expert U.S. environmental reporters perceived the professional norm of objectivity when covering climate change and how they say this perception changed during a period of apparent shift from 2000 to 2010. Participants were probed on eight dimensions of traditional objectivity gleaned from the literature, such as neutrality and balance (e.g., Schudson, 1978). Results show that mainstream environmental journalists developed a modified norm of objectivity but do not claim to have abandoned it completely. This discovery is important in an era when traditional notions of journalism are being challenged and new definitions are coming forward. Both journalists and the public deserve a thorough understanding of the values that contributed to this most crucial story.

Before turning to the journalists’ perspectives, we provide a conceptual review of objectivity, a history of climate change coverage, and a review of research on environmental journalists.

Full Paper

HT/Brian M

55 thoughts on “Justifying the Devolution of Journalistic standards.

  1. Journalism used to be about the newsworthiness of the story, now it’s all about the advertising dollars the story can generate.

    • Well, those two are actually related items – the REAL devolution occurred when it became about suppression, spin, and agenda-messaging.

      While ‘newsworthy’ lent itself to sensationalism, journalistic responsibility at least kept that somewhat tethered – at least in ‘respectable’ publications – that’s all gone now. In fact, I daresay the formerly ‘respectable’ publications are now the worst offenders.

    • If that is so, why are most papers losing money?
      The more ideological a paper, the less likely people are to read it.

    • Who owns the papers and MSM outlets?
      What are the owners promoting?
      Who hires the journalist?

      I’ve had a number of first hand encounters with reporters/journalist over the years. In the actual story or report, even when the subject was benign, they got the facts wrong and/or the impression given was wrong.
      When the subject was not benign, the facts and quotes were warped to support the desired bias.

      • I often ask people if they have ever read a news article about a subject of which they have first hand knowledge. If they have, and most have, I ask if the article was accurate, or wrong on important aspects. Almost everyone agrees that these articles were flawed.

        I then ask why they expect that any other article would be accurate.

        • “Every thing you read in the newspaper is 100% accurate, except for…..”

          Originally from an editor of Progressive Magazine in the 1950’s.

        • Every event that I was at personally that was covered by big media, meaning TV and radio, was misrepresented severely by all of them if the topic was the least bit controversial.

          These experiences convinces me that if there is any slight chance of a political implication in the story, it would be biased, not balanced.

          These days, unlike in my youth, there is a lot more “cleverness” in the way plausible deniability is conjured up. A classic example is presently in evidence from the Canadian PM trying to explain away the SNC Lavelin case. The public may be a lot more “woke” than he thinks.

  2. At least they acknowledged journalists have ‘redifined’ objectivity and balance. The problem is, from my perspective, when you continually redifine or expand the definitions of words or concepts, those words or concepts lose any semblance of meaning.

    • Quote from this paper’s PDF file pg 4 (doc’s page 429): “Public relations (PR) firms and dissenting scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry sowed doubt and misinformation about the reality of human-caused climate change (Gelbspan, 2005) ….”

      As I’ve detailed at considerable length at my GelbspanFiles.com blog, global warming alarmist book author Ross Gelbspan has never once offered viable evidence that skeptic climate scientists were or are working under a pay-for-performance arrangement with fossil fuel industry people. That’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg problem, which is routinely showcased in these kinds of ‘scholarly papers.’ Engage in a deep examination of any repetition of this baseless accusation repeated by prominent accusers, and you’ll soon see there is always three degrees of separation or less between them and Ross Gelbspan. Legacy media reporters may have spotted this fatal problem years ago and chose not to pursue it, or else they were so incompetent and/or biased at their jobs that they never verified if the ‘crooked skeptics’ was above reproach …. just like the authors of this paper may have done here.

      • ” Ross Gelbspan has never once offered viable evidence that skeptic climate scientists were or are working under a pay-for-performance arrangement with fossil fuel industry people.”


        Its basically:

        1) qualifed scientist has opinion that doesn’t gibe with the so-called “97%”, i.e., Lindzen
        2) scientist is asked by a business group that is (very) partially funded by an oil company
        3) scientist presents opinion to business group
        4) scientist is smeared as being in the “pay of Big Oil” by “Big Green”

        what usually isn’t mentioned is that

        5) scientist says he/she will present same opinion to “Big Green”
        6) “Big Green” says “why would we listen to someone funded by “Big Oil”?

    • From reading articles on climate change recently, journalists haven’t ‘redefined’ objectivity and balance. They’ve completely lost the plot. MOST articles are simply reprinted press releases from far-left eco-warrior activists. They never, ever admit that the skeptic side could be right. Certainly not equal time.

  3. The author lost all credibility and objectivity right off the bat with this statement that was presented as fact:

    Public relations (PR) firms and dissenting scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry sowed doubt and misinformation about the reality of human-caused climate change…

    To make it worse, Gelbspan was quoted as the authority.
    (Que Russell Cook’s entrance)

    • It’s true the authors have revealed their own bias in presenting the study. They have not, nor have the journalists they interviewed “JUSTIFIED” the changes they describe in definitions of objectivity or balance in reprorting. They have simply made excuses for deviating from objective journalism so that they can continue to support their favourite narrative for whatever reasons (ego, money, influence, advertising etc.) There is nothing virtuous about this practice and much to condemn. This is not journalism – it is advocacy.

      • On what happened to be the very day of the last presidential election (when so many would be gobsmacked that evening by results their customary professional ‘informants’ had in no way prepared them for) I had sent the following response to a recent article in the Stanford alumni magazine by a journalism professor who had spent so many decades there grooming students that he comfortably announced that objective journalism was just an old fashioned standard that now must be superseded by the promotion of certain much desired political outcomes:

        ‘Journalism professor *******’s candid account of an elitist post-modern version of reportage that largely suits the reporter’s own personal motives (even preceding those Wikileaked email confirmations of how widespread mainstream media’s servicing of the Democratic National Committee had become) adequately accounts for the current death spiral of that profession in the confidence of responsible ordinary citizens of a republic who are left to seek their essential knowledge elsewhere. Nor can this eventually hold much promise of a satisfactory Return On Investment for many of his students. . . . And in a related matter, as one who is long familiar with what this magazine serves up I would be truly curious to know how many of my fellow alums have the slightest notion of just how level the observed average global temperature trend line (or even the more revealing notably flat trend of both regional and global daily highs themselves, since all the alarm has been about the top of the range) has accompanied the continual elevation in atmospheric CO2, let’s say over the entire lifetime of a current Stanford freshman. These newly enrolled will no doubt have earlier been shown Al Gore Jr.’s movie a number of times in the classroom in that familiar pattern of frank indoctrination, while never being made in the least aware of multiple contrary pertinent observations by several interviewed scientists in “The Great Global Warming Swindle” [ viewable on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIRICfZOvpY by the way] originally produced for television in the UK around the same time.
        In the end we might all do well to consider just how far we are liable to be led astray by those who share no very compelling regard for the truth itself — not that this should concern any self-respecting university, you understand! But I’m told that a word to the wise is sufficient.’

        Of course none of this ever found its way to the ‘letters to the editor’ pages of any subsequent edition of that magazine for the benefit of graduates under the editorial supervision of (no kidding) “Kevin Cool”. But then if you’ve ever closely examined Cole Porter’s lyrics to what might simply seem a merry old tune, you’ll discover the very blueprint for such an inability to affirm a higher standard for our conduct: “The world’s gone mad today and good’s bad today and black’s white today and day’s night today, when most guys today that women prize today are just silly gigolos. So though I’m not a great romancer, I know that you’re bound to answer when I propose, ‘Anything goes!’ “.

  4. “This pattern led to the charge of “balance as bias,” in which Boykoff and Boykoff (2004) skewered the media for creating an appearance of significant scientific debate over anthropogenic climate change, when, in fact, there was little disagreement”

    Unfortunately, journalists and researchers have not only redefined “objectivity” but the very definition of “debate” itself. There is no debate that the climate changes, and no debate that man has some kind of influence over it. There is without a doubt tremendous debate about the degree to which either occurs, not to mention the correct policy actions.

  5. Is there any evidence that ‘fossil fuel’ companies have ever funded a ‘denile industry’ or individuals? Surely they are going to sell their entire inventory come what may?

    • They can always find a few dollars changing hands, even if it isn’t directly and it doesn’t matter how many years ago.

      For example, Heartland accepted some money from an oil company something like 15 years ago. It was a one time grant. The money was earmarked for a particular project, that wasn’t climate related. The total amount of the grant was less than 10% of Heartland’s budget for that year.
      Ever since, anyone who is even remotely associated with Heartland has been declared to be “funded by big oil”.

      They are not, and never have been interested in truth or honesty. They seek to win, and the means do not matter, because that just how noble they are.

    • Maybe you should “Ask Cleopatra?”
      I hear she was Queen of deNile.

      (LOL, queue the Spelling Police)

  6. The evidence doesn’t or can’t establish AGW, so journalism has been destroyed in favor of mounds upon mounds of endless steaming piles of dung-heap-quality media hype.


  7. Take too many schools churning out too many graduates with too few real skills.

    Then, fire all the expensive older writers, and hire those recent grads who want to write for a living.

    Pay them crap wages, but give them titles such as “senior” science writer (at 25) and promote them to “senior” editor at 27.

    Have them write clickbait.

    When they get too expensive, fire them, hire offshore (or use AI to write, don’t tell me they haven’t already done this in some places).

    Repeat as needed.

    Face it, too much of “journalism” is actually “media writing”, and much of that “writing” could kindly be called “remedial typing”.

    • They don’t actually bother to pay for AI programs to write. They simply rebadge press releases from eco-warriors.

      • Yes, I meant to include that with my reply. And the kids who do the re-writing aren’t exactly Hemingways, so it shows.

  8. “Climate change is arguably
    the world’s biggest environmental story
    —and for journalists, it may be the toughest”.

    In reality, I believe climate change is a non-story.

    The climate has barely changed since 1880,
    staying in a 1 degree C. range, based on
    haphazard measurements, adjustments
    and infilling.

    And the climate (average temperature)
    has not changed at all since 2003
    (satellite data within the small
    margins of error).

    So, when nothing happens
    for 15 years, there’s no
    climate change story to cover.

    What so-called “journalists” cover is
    a fake climate crisis — scary predictions of
    a coming climate crisis, starting in the
    1960’s, that never shows up
    (because it is a fairy tale, not reality!).

    I’ve been waiting for over 40 years since
    moving to Michigan — where’s the
    global warming to make Michigan more

    I demand it !

    Meanwhile, the small change in the
    average temperature since 1880,
    of about +1 degree C., most likely
    with an honest margin of error of
    +/- 1 degree C., would not even have been
    noticed by anyone in the US ( maybe
    they’d notice in Alaska ), if not for
    the braying of hysterical leftists, now
    claiming “an existential threat”.

    Maybe the average temperature will
    go up +0.1 degree C. in ten years,
    or down -0.1 degree C. ?

    There’s no indication of
    any faster climate change, based
    on actual experience since the 1990’s.

    So where is a story that needs reporting?

    That leftists are incredibly stupid
    about real climate science ?

    Everyone already knows that !

    An honest journalist would ignore
    real climate science
    — too boring — harmless — nothing happening
    not interesting at all, UNLESS
    you invent a scary climate fairy tale
    and wave your arms around,
    claiming the world will end in 12 years,
    acting like a stupid head,
    or a leftist (I repeat myself) !

    My climate science blog,
    is based on real science —
    I see past climate change as
    20,000 years of good news,
    beneficial for our planet,
    and not a threat at all:


  9. “Climate change is arguably the world’s biggest environmental story”

    Meanwhile, the ‘science’ supporting the associated detrimental environmental advocacy it is the most persistent broken science of the modern age.

    How an absurdly high and trivially falsifiable ECS has had such a profound influence on driving people to act against their own self interests will be the subject of political science PhD dissertations for centuries to come.

  10. It was obvious to me that publishers were in on the propaganda big buildup ahead of the Paris Climate “Agreement” with obvious street money implications far and wide, right down to the small town news outlets. I don’t suppose any “truth detector” journalists or researchers will be looking into that case of follow the money, good guy-bad gay framing on that one. So much for professional integrity.

  11. “…dissenting scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry sowed doubt and misinformation about the reality of human-caused climate change..”

    Why is it that the dissenting scientists not funded by the fossil fuel industry, which is nearly all of them, never get any credit?

  12. “Balance as bias”? It is very notable in the legacy media’s coverage of climate change, but spin is prevalent in much of what the legacy media coverage of everything. Before the internet, The New York Times really could decide what fit “all the news that’s fit to print”, and get away with it largely unchallenged.
    It is not that the media has become more biased, just that it is easier to demonstrate.

  13. One of these journalists/activists is Environmental News Writer Marc Cherki who writes in the French Newspaper Le Figaro.
    Cherki dismissed experience and objections letters from retired engineers and scientists quite callously in an infamous video.

    Yet the journalists’ scientific background credentials are nowhere to be found.
    Multiples calls to have him reveal his complete curriculum vitae have been met with silence.

    So debating science with such stealth political commissar is useless.

  14. Evolution. They just happen to conform to a divergent fitness function. However, with an assortment, if only in the breach, of competing interests, not quite monotonic.

  15. Attempting to be fair and unbiased is fine and all, but can you really expect someone to accurately present the views of someone he (or she) strongly (even viscerally) disagrees with? A diversity of news and views sources is essential.

  16. So declaring that only one “side” is legitimate and the other side is illegimate is what they call “journalism”?

    Because organizations of private individuals maintain that there is a counter-argument means therefore they must be illegitmate?

    This is clearly Orwellian “Newspeak” territory.

    No thank you – my brain still works and I intend to keep engaging it.

    • Doesn’t “keep engaging it” imply that you have engaged your brain at least once?

      The counter arguments have been provided and they are devastating to your case.
      Just because you are paid not to see what is right in front of you, doesn’t mean anyone else has to take you seriously.

  17. What is not said is that all these “elite journalists were sought, and all had a minimum of 10 years of experience in climate coverage.” are writing EXACTLY what their employers want them to write.

    And if they didn’t bias their Climate stories to enforcement of the “consensus”, they’d be fired/let go and someone else who would write such stories would be hired in their place.
    This reinforcing feedback in the hiring/firing course explains exactly how such a journalistic bias became deeply embedded in the first place.

    The Publishers/owners/editors are getting exactly what they paid for. And then they wonder why so many paying customers are walking away from their subscriptions. The publishers/owners never really considered that the internet would interfere with their gas-lighting of the American public on the climate scam.

  18. The only conclusion a reasonable person can come to is that journals are either possessed by ideology or are lazy. Today’s climate is, if anything, slightly cooler than the one I spent my childhood in.

  19. Relevant to this story is this piece of advice from communications consultants to the British government.

    Treating climate change as beyond argument:

    Much of the noise in the climate change discourse comes from argument and counter-argument, and it is our recommendation that, at least for popular communications, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won. This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective. This must be done by stepping away from the ‘advocates debate’ described earlier, rather than by stating and re-stating these things as fact. The ‘facts’ need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken.

    The certainty of the Government’s new climate-change slogan – ‘Together this generation will tackle climate change’ (Defra 2006) – gives an example of this approach. It constructs, rather than claims, its own factuality. Where science is invoked, it now needs to be as ‘lay science’ – offering lay explanations for what is being treated as a simple established scientific fact, just as the earth’s rotation or the water cycle are considered.


    • So, after they’ve progressed us back to the stone age, and the last glacial, and they control the weather, and climate is absolutely static at some arbitrary benchmark, and entropy destroys everything. Can we then say “we told you so”?

  20. It’s not so much the journalists as the media owners …. the real owners. The writers spew what is expected or they don’t have work, with anyone. And they know it. It’s bought and paid for propaganda at the highest levels and that’s why you hear/see almost no contrary facts or opinion.

  21. “There’s the problem right there – desribing [sic] science as in terms of opinion.”

    Hear! Hear! But other bits of your statement need correction:

    “When a large minority of your scientists and your media becomes anti-science and begins to talk about opinion as data, bad policy is inevitable. But that is merely the symptom of a larger problem – the financial greed of Big Green on susceptible politicians.”


    “A small number of uber-ideological individuals have captured climate science and turned it into faith. Inevitable really when any person becomes so stratosphercally [sic] quixotic.”

    • No, the scientists are not anti-science.

      Because you’ve said?

      93 trillion? The rest of the world has universal healthcare but the US can’t afford it…uh huh.

      Oh dear, is that your Red Herring I presume? And here sat I longing for the Smart of They but rather all I got was the ilks of thee.

      Oh well. Better luck next time I reckon!


  22. 1. write before you read (Karl Kraus).

    2. Write what you know. Write what you can answer for.

    3. Then you can read what others know, believe, believe to know.

  23. 1. Eine “Analyse” sollte sich auf 3 oder 4 Punkte beschränken.

    2. Eine Analyse die mehr als 3 Punkte behandelt sollte man nicht ungeprüft übernehmen.

    3. Eine Analyse die mehr als 6 Punkte behandelt kann man ungeprüft der Rundablage übergeben.

  24. Regarding the “Green” propaganda, I think that about 80 % of the Green supporters are truly concerned about the condition of Planet Earth. About 15 % are in it for the money, here in Australia the owners of coal fired power station also own the windmills, as there is a government busy supporting renewable.

    And the remaining 5 % cent are joust like the late Maurice Strong, are hoping that just like in Germany in the 1920 tees, first the collapse of the democratic Weimer republic, followed by the Wall Street crash, lead to Adolph Hitler getting legally elected . In Russia it was armed takeover of a weakened Democratic government.

    First you need to weaken the economy of a Country, then you take over and we get a dictatorship

    We need big business to realise that they too are going to be destroyed, then perhaps they will support the anti warmers lobby with money. because we need money to run our antic propaganda campaign.


  25. This line of thought might help.
    All my life I have admired the beauty of the female face. I was sure, when I saw a beautiful face, that I would remember it forever, with joy, simply because it was so striking it could not, should not, be forgotten.
    Then, aged 17, came a few years of lectures in advanced Pure and Applied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Geology and employment using Science. Much of the name of the game was accurate observation and measurement.
    Blessed with the working tools of Science, I should have been able to quantify and to record for posterity, the factors that combined to make a beautiful female face.
    That was theory. It met reality. There was no way to know if a face was beautiful for all observers, even if the measurements of faces were available as a guide.
    Subjectivity met objectivity. Accuracy met belief.
    Much of the global warming scare can be understood this way. The poor scientists from the Climategate emails saw beauty in their life work, when measurement and observation should have prevailed. Scientists are allowed to surrender their badges when so compromised.
    Similar considerations apply to journalism. Those lily-livered authors of the paper under discussion here are or were under the influence of the subjective beauty idiom, when society expected them to write ‘Just the facts M’am’ because that is what they were hired to do.
    So, be philosophic as you age, ignore the dreamers of pretty faces when you expect hard Science, but always remember conundrums as you contemplate the next beautiful face. As another once wrote, ‘If little girls are made of snips and snails and puppy dog’s tails, how come they smell of anchovies?’

  26. I like that, “…dissenting scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry …“, with the hidden implication that scientists funded by the “fossil fuel industry” cannot be trusted, whereas those funded by (presumably)governments can be. A simple glance at the evidence would surely indicate that the reverse is closer to the truth.

  27. Follow the Money. The “Media” hates “Big Oil” because the oil industry no longer spends billions of dollars on advertising. After WWII, the oil industry and the automotive industry spent more money on advertising than any other industries. Decades later, we can still remember the slogans.

    “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” — Texaco

    “Put a tiger in your tank.” — Humble/Esso/Exxon

    “You expect more from Standard [Amoco] … and you get it.” — Standard Oil of Indiana/Amoco

    This made the media incredibly rich (and powerful). But after the oil shortages of the 1970s and the mergers and consolidations of the 1980s and 1990s the oil industry cut way back on advertising. Thus they became “evil”.

    Auto companies still spend a lot on advertising, so they are given a pass. It’s ok to sell fossil fuel consuming devices, but it’s evil to sell fossil fuels.

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