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Open Letter to WHDH - 7 News Boston

To: James Rogers Vice-President and General Manager, WHDH and WLVI WHDH TV 7 Bulfinch Place Boston, Massachusetts 02114

RE: Climate Emergency Reporting

As part of an international day of protest, Extinction Rebellion-Boston calls on WHDH and other Boston-area news outlets to Tell the Truth about the climate crisis and its impacts on our local communities, the people of Massachusetts, and the people and ecosystems around the world.

Using the WHDH website, we have analyzed all the climate-related video segments that have aired since January 1, 2019. We found a record of reporting that fails to convey the enormity of the crisis to WHDH’s viewership:

  • We found only 17 climate-related video segments since 1/1/2019. That is less than one per month, for the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Of these, eight were about protest actions, four were devoted to a single person (Greta Thunberg), and four were about aspects of climate change politics or policy.
  • We found only one segment about the science or impacts of climate change--a story about melting ice in the Antarctic.
  • We found no individual segments of the ways climate change is affecting or will affect the local region or the world at large.

We note that WHDH has given prominent coverage to a number of Extinction Rebellion actions including the Climate Justice Now banner over the Citgo sign and the “Flood the Seaport” event last year (which did include content on climate science) along with other protests. We are grateful for this coverage. However, our goal is not simply to generate coverage of our own actions, but to compel the media and government to tell the truth about the crisis and communicate the urgent need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, convert to renewable energy sources, and prepare for widespread climatic disruption.

Covering protests and politics is important, but not sufficient. The climate crisis is an existential threat to human civilization, with a predicted “hothouse earth” scenario if urgent action is not taken. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and has already been subjected to devastating disasters caused by global warming, including increasingly severe Nor’easters, blizzards, droughts, heatwaves, and coastal and inland flooding. These events need to be connected to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the trend line for more extreme events.

WHDH and each of the local television stations need to inform, educate and report on the current and future consequences for Boston, Massachusetts and all of human society if aggressive action is not taken. NBC10 is the only local TV news with a dedicated segment reporting the climate emergency: “Adapting to Climate Change,” by Chris Gloniger.

Here are some recent local stories WHDH and other Boston-area broadcast outlets could be reporting to convey the magnitude of the climate emergency:

  • In January 2020, Boston declared climate change to be a public health emergency. WHDH did not report on this declaration, either on TV news or on their website.
  • A local nonprofit found that hundreds of buildings on the North Shore will experience daily flooding within the next decade.
  • A local research group found that CO2 emissions are closely tracking the “worst-case scenario” model.

Here are reports of extreme weather that need to be connected to rising carbon emissions, but are not.

  • July 2020 was the second-hottest month on record for the Earth, and the hottest ever for the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico just delivered two simultaneous hurricane systems for the first time on record. Such devastating events will become even more frequent as warming increases.
  • The more than 650 fires that have and are burning more than 1.25 million acres in California in August. Such wildfires have gotten steadily worse over the past decade, and will continue to worsen as the climate crisis unfolds.

According to polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, only one in ten Americans feel “very well-informed” about the crisis, and fewer than half say they hear about climate change in the media at least once a month. Your audience and the general public need to know the current effects of global heating, the looming threats to our community, and the actions local, state and federal government need to take to avert the harshest consequences of runaway warming. We are calling on WHDH and all area media outlets to give the climate and ecological crisis the attention they deserve. Like Covid-19, and your reporting on it, the climate emergency demands greater and sustained attention that informs and educates.

We request to meet with representatives of WHDH to express our concerns and hear from you about how you approach climate coverage and how you intend to help the people of our region understand the daunting changes that will play out through your broadcast area.

For Extinction Rebellion-Boston,

Ben Allen, Meryl Brott, Alex Chambers, Michael Fogelberg, Bailey Michell

CC: Marie Mandelberg, Senior Executive Producer, News; Mathew Brown, Associate Director, News; Carol Brown, Assistant Director, News; Kara Labs, Executive Producer, News; Jason Doris, Weather Producer; Megan Edge, Senior Producer, News

Analysis of WHDH climate reporting, 2019-2020

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