California governor Jerry Brown signs a bill setting a 100 percent clean electricity goal for the state. (Photograph courtesy of the Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.)

As a journalism professor, I teach my first and second year students that one of the easiest means of breaking news is to find a problem a foreign government is acting on and then ask what their own government is or isn’t doing about the same problem.

In newsrooms, this would be called localizing a story.

That’s why I’m disappointed that most of Canada’s mainstream news media don’t seem to have used recent climate change announcements by United Nations secretary-general António Guterres and California governor Jerry Brown to hold our own governments to account on that issue.

On September 10, Guterres warned, “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us” – news that was worthy enough to be teased on the front page of the New York Times, below the fold.

The United Nations secretary-general’s climate change warning was important enough to make the front page of the New York Times. (Image courtesy of the New York Times)

That warning comes after a summer of scorching world temperatures, a heat wave that caused dozens of deaths in Quebec and devastating wildfires in British Columbia – all of which have been attributed to climate change. 

On the same day Guterres made his statement, Brown signed a bill and issued an executive order that commits the state to achieving carbon neutrality and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 – something Vox described as “history’s most ambitious climate target,” although there are others who question whether the California governor is doing enough for the environment.

Both announcements were made just prior to the beginning of the Global Climate Action Summit, which took place in San Francisco.

But, when I searched Canadian Newsstream – a database that includes 582 news outlets – this morning,1I used the following terms: (California AND “climate change”), (“United Nations” AND “climate change”), “Antonio Guterres” and “Jerry Brown.” the coverage of that news in the Canadian  English-language mainstream news media appears to have been sparse. According to that database:

  • the Canadian Press broadcast an audio story reporting on Guterres’s warning;
  • the Prince George Citizen published an Associated Press story about that warning;
  • the Hamilton Spectator published an Associated Press story which mentioned that warning; and
  • the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal published an Associated Press story about Brown’s climate change targets.

In addition, a Google search shows the National Post carried Associated Press stories about Brown and Guterres’s announcements., CTV, the Prince George Citizen, and the Toronto Star also carried the same Associated Press story about Brown’s announcement.

However, I could find no mainstream stories in Canadian Newsstream that localized those developments. Nor could I find any such stories on Google.

As Canadian journalists, I think we must do better than this.

Our role is to provide the public with the information they need to make the rationale, empathetic decisions that are supposed to be the foundation of democratic governance.

That’s why the questions we ask and don’t ask matter.

And if we aren’t asking the questions we should about climate change, the existential threat of our time, we’re contributing to that problem.


1 I used the following terms: (California AND “climate change”), (“United Nations” AND “climate change”), “Antonio Guterres” and “Jerry Brown.”

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