In one of the most embarrassing news stories I’ve ever seen in the mainstream press, the New York Times has a comprehensive report on the catastrophic meltdown in the public’s interest in global warming.
The only problem: nothing in here is news, if by news you mean ‘new’.
“Climate Fears Turn To Doubts Among Britons,” blares the headline.
The story begins:
LONDON — Last month hundreds of environmental activists crammed into an auditorium here to ponder an anguished question: If the scientific consensus on climate change has not changed, why have so many people turned away from the idea that human activity is warming the planet?
Last month? The conference was last month and we are only hearing about it now, at the end of this month?
It turns out, however, that by Times standards a report on a conference from last month is a late breaking newsflash. The main evidence that ace reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal has tracked down for her story about changing public sentiment comes from a BBC opinion poll from February.
The last I looked, we were approaching the end of May. This is deliberative journalism at its best: only ninety swift days between a BBC poll and the time that the New York Times thinks you are ready to hear about it.
Rosenthal has tracked down some other elusive leads. Concern about climate change, she reports, has also dropped dramatically among Germans — from 62 percent to 42 percent. This time, the news dates only from March. Sixty days from simmer to serve: the head spins at the speed of information in this globalized world of ours.
And there’s nothing as thorough as a professional journalist hunting a good story; she’s also got another late breaking revelation. As recently as January, a scant four months ago, a mere flick of the eyelid in geological time, a survey of Conservative political candidates in the UK showed that stopping climate change rated as the lowest among 19 priorities for the new government.
Now six months after the rest of the world found out about it, Times readers are finally learning that Climategate and Glaciergate so seriously reduced public confidence in climate science in so many countries that there is little or no chance that serious global climate change legislation will be enacted. At the time, the story did not merit much attention in the print pages of the Times; but sometimes a good story has to age like a fine wine.
But late as it is, it’s a good story. Read the whole thing. And give thanks that you live in the information age, when the news of the day, properly vetted and screened by layers of professional news editors, will be delivered to you as soon as it’s safely matured.
Who knows, in a few more months or years, somebody may write a story about the damage that the culture of cocooning and coddling did to a movement that only slowly learned that it had lost the public trust. Somebody might even interview the editors and journalists involved to find out why the collapse of the climate change movement’s political momentum was too unimportant to print while the news was still fresh. Somebody else might look at that journalistic culture and write a story about how failures of aggressive reporting and news editing undermined the credibility of some of the greatest news gathering organizations on earth.
But I wouldn’t publish any of that stuff too quickly. Stories this big and this rich need to be properly aged.