OFF THE GRID

Climate Change: How Come US Newspapers Don’t Like This Issue?

Dec 7, 09 | 9:45 AM   byMichael Wolff
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My friend Ian Katz, a senior editorial figure at the Guardian newspaper in London, and a prime mover of an initiative to create one editorial on climate change that a coalition of newspapers around the world publishes today, writes to ask my opinion of “why no major US newspapers would play.”

The project has 56 newspapers in 45 countries (representing 20 different languages) publishing an editorial meant to firm up the moral ardor of the nations gathering this week in Copenhagen to work on a climate change treaty. But, except for the Miami Herald, nobody else has signed on in the US.

The editorial itself is not that controversial. True, it lambastes the US—“the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics”—as a stumbling block to the treaty. And it threatens on-rushing doom—“climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security”—but this is largely liberal-editorialist global-warming boilerplate.

The more interesting question is not about the sentiment, but why US newspapers are so reluctant to join a bandwagon.

Permit me to change the subject for a moment from the death of the planet to the death of newspapers. One of the great marketing tools for a newspaper is a campaign. If you can move your readers, have them want to join you in a mission, you build brand loyalty. That’s the Fox method. You would think the instant razzmatazz of a global editorial (even about climate change) would be a sure marketing advantage for liberal papers—I see the editorial in a big front-page box. Even the Times might have preserved the pride of its own editorial authorship by putting this common editorial on its op-ed page. This might have been a win for climate change reform and for newspaper identity.

The problem, of course, could be liberal branding. This is still, even with Democrats in charge of the federal government, a skittish issue—being too lefty. It’s an uncomfortable market niche.

And it doesn’t help that the editorial was written by the Guardian, more and more the world’s official liberal paper. Nor does it help that it was written by a European newspaper—foreign influence is also an iffy niche.

For the Times, which would have been the headline participant in this campaign, there is the issue of competitiveness. The Guardian pursues the Times, especially online, for liberal readers and brand authority.

And then there is climate change itself. Americans don’t really like this issue. We feel sour about it, as though its real subtext is against us. And dubious: Such scientific certainly, indeed near religiosity, always turns out to be overstated, doesn’t it? And, I believe, we are secretly much less grim than the rest of the world: We’re counting, as we always do, on better technology to save the day.

But mostly I think US newspapers have not grabbed this easy opportunity to rally readers and stand up and be counted because they have no fight left in them.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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