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Major Papers Unevenly Covered UN Warning of Extinction

31 of the 50 Top U.S. Papers Did Not Cover Announcement of Potential Extinction of 1 Million Plant and Animal Species

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A recent announcement that 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction because of human activity received scant coverage in top newspapers, a new Public Citizen report finds.

“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 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 U.N.’s finding in their print editions.

The search was limited to the top 50 newspapers by circulation, so it omitted many significant local dailies, such as The Palm Beach Post and The Charlotte Observer, as well as Capitol Hill publications like The Hill, Politico and Roll Call. Nor did the search include trade or online publications, such as Grist or E&E News. The goal was to get a snapshot of how the largest papers, read by millions, were handling the announcement.

“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,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “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.”

Some of the publications that covered the U.N. report summary did so in depth, with editorials and opinion pieces in addition to news stories. The papers that covered the summary produced 48 total pieces that at least referenced the U.N. report.

And the full report from the IPBES will be released later this year, giving papers another chance to inform their readers about the devastation we are doing to the natural world.

Public Citizen’s analysis also found that:

  • Among pieces that covered the report, 67% connected the possible extinction of 1 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 the 14 reprints were of an Associated Press article;
  • Eight major newspapers editorialized on the report; and
  • Twenty percent of articles, columns and editorials about the U.N. report discussed barriers to saving threatened species such as efforts by the Trump administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

“What papers did right provides a road map for other news outlets when the full U.N. report comes out,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “As with the climate crisis, massive loss of biodiversity is a story that requires consistent coverage and reporting that connects human existence and behavior to the habitats and climate we depend on. Some papers are doing just that. The ones that are not should.”

To cover the report, media outlets can use multiple voices and reporting styles (such as with editorials, columns and news stories), use humor, connect the report to the climate crisis, localize the findings, discuss solutions, put the report in political context, reprint good coverage and listen to readers.