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Covering Collapse: Top U.S. Newspapers Offer Uneven Reporting on United Nations Extinction Warning

Covering Collapse: Top U.S. Newspapers Offer Uneven Reporting on United Nations Extinction Warning

“Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely,” said a May 6 summary report of from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The report summary noted that climate change is the third leading cause of this extinction. Other causes are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, pollution and invasive alien species.

But a review of the first week of newspaper coverage of this sobering warning reveals that 31 of the top 50 newspapers in the United States did not report, editorialize about or otherwise mention the UN’s finding in their print editions.

Although many papers neglected to print anything on the summary report, those that covered it offered good models for how to do so effectively. 

See Full Report for recommendations on how to cover the United Nations report on the impending loss of one million species.

Summary of Findings:

  • Thirty-one of the top 50 papers did not cover the U.N. report in their print editions.
  • The remaining 19 papers produced 48 total pieces that at least referenced the U.N. report.
  • Among pieces that covered the report, 67 percent connected the possible extinction of one million species to the climate crisis.
  • The Washington Post produced the most coverage with nine pieces, including three columns and an editorial.
  • Twenty-nine percent or 14 of the articles were reprints from other publications or wire services. Eight of these 14 reprinted an Associated Press article by Seth Borenstein.
  • Eight papers editorialized on the report: the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, The New York Times, Newsday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot, and The Washington Post.
  • Forty percent of pieces on the U.N. report discussed how we can prevent such a massive loss of biodiversity, including by mitigating climate change.
  • Twenty percent of pieces discussed barriers to saving threatened species, such as efforts by the Trump Administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
  • Just one mention of the report, in the “Fast Take” section of the New York Post, was dismissive of the findings.
  • A total of 30 letters to the editor referencing the report were published among 13 of the top 50 papers.
It’s astonishing that 31 of the top 50 U.S. papers didn’t see fit to print that humans are causing one of the fastest mass extinctions in planetary history, and one that will take 10 million years to recover from. A paper that doesn’t print this or other major climate-related news is failing at its core function—reporting on critical issues of our time. David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program.