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A eulogy to Guardian's Climate Consensus - the 97%

Posted on 30 October 2018 by dana1981

The Guardian editors recently decided to discontinue their Science and Environment blog networks.  This is the story of Climate Consensus - the 97%.

Way back in 2012, newspapers were struggling to hang on to readers. Blogs were all the rage, and with the stability of the Obama administration, a steadily improving economy, the UK still in the EU (how I long for those good old days), there wasn't today's demand for daily newspapers. Papers were trying to come up with new ideas, and the Guardian editors decided to experiment with international blog networks.

It was a very clever idea. There were lots of smart science and environment bloggers out there, writing on their own blogs for free. By folding them into The Guardian, the paper was able to add their expert analysis. By splitting the ad revenue, they guaranteed some profit for the paper while bringing in new readers for the expert analysis, and the bloggers who previously wrote for free got a bit of pay for their work, plus the prestige of affiliation with The Guardian. It was a win-win.

The experiment worked with the Science blog network, so in late 2012 they decided to expand with an Environment blog network. Over 800 bloggers applied. I had a bit of a foot in the door, because I'd been writing for Skeptical Science for about 2 years. Whenever some prominent climate denier regurgitated a myth that was picked up in the media, I would quickly debunk it at Skeptical Science, and a few times The Guardian picked up and re-published my pieces. So I was a known quantity, and they hired me on along with about 10 other Environment bloggers. Some didn't pan out and dropped off, but several like Graham Readfearn and Martin Lukacs (and of course me and John Abraham) lasted for the long haul. They 'handed us the keys' to our blogs, and off we went.

And it worked great. For over 5 years we provided expert analysis, brought in readers and a bit of profit to the paper, required minimal oversight, and had very few problems. We averaged around 20k views per post, topping out at half a million when I wrote one criticizing Trump's pullout of the Paris agreement. But gradually the editors who launched the blogs moved on. And then we got Trump, and Brexit, and there was so much bullshit 'fake news' out there that people started to value and consume reliable media sources like the NYT, WaPo, and Guardian. With this beefed up readership, they hired more journalists, including on the science and environment beats.

The new editors weren't invested in the blogs and were focused on the expanded traditional reporting. Nobody was keeping an eye on the bloggers, which was fine - we had 5 years of experience and hummed along like a well-tuned EV - but I think they started to worry that we represented some liability. A rogue, unsupervised blogger could cause problems. They didn't want to worry about us, and felt they didn't need us anymore. We were no longer an "exciting new experiment," as one Guardian staffer told us. The experiment had worked! But the editors wanted to move to a new era that focused more on traditional journalism.

So, this summer they decided to discontinue all the blogs by the end of August. Though somehow they forgot to tell a bunch of us Environment bloggers, so we kept writing and publishing, blissfully unaware that we had been laid off months earlier. Ironically, October will end up being one of our blog's most-trafficked months. We had some big stories, two months after we were supposed to have been terminated.

It goes to show how little oversight we needed that none of the editors apparently noticed we were still publishing for nearly 2 months until this week, when we finally got the bad news. But, they did tell us that they value our content, and asked that we continue pitching them stories, albeit on a less frequent basis (approx. monthly rather than weekly, depending on what climate news pops up).

I don't agree with the decision. I think the expert analysis and readership we brought in outweighed any small chance that we could create a significant problem for the paper. But that's the editors' call, and I do appreciate that they want us to keep submitting stories. I'm also glad they've been able to expand their science & environment reporting and that people are reading it.

So, that's the whole story of our Guardian blog. All good things must come to an end. I'll miss it - it was really the perfect platform to communicate what I've learned about climate science and economics and policy and politics, and it was great that they gave us free rein to write whatever we wanted. It was a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it. In all likelihood I'll keep publishing in the paper, unless I find another regular gig elsewhere.

A toast to Climate Consensus - the 97%. I'll miss you!

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. Great post Dana. Thanks for your persistence and great reporting.

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  2. Dana, sorry to hear that the Guardian lost interest in continuing their Science and Environment blog networks, which were dedicated to discussing our home planet, the one we depend on for everything.

    It’s sad, this was a nice eulogy, more cake.  What makes me profoundly  sad is the placid acceptance that your write up displayed.  Que Será, Será.

    Seems to me the Guardian’s cancelation deserves a deeper post mortem, one that take a hard look at why the failure . . .   (wish I had the time, but the workingman's whip is cracking hard these days)

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  3. The Guardian is not alone in publishing articles by hapless general purpose reporters who reveal that they cannot even discern work from power, let alone handle the job of teasing a useful message from often seemingly conflicted scientific narratives. 

    This is basically a situation of a street light being allowed to burn out and nobody being in charge of noticing or replacing it. The street goes dark and people have to blunder through as best they can. 

    This non-decision was worse than stupid: it was thoughtless. 

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  4. This decision on climate reporting seems irrational because it doesn't make a lot of economic sense to get rid of volunteer contributors payed a limited amount. It looks like a power trip by people wanting to change things for the sake of change, to put theirpersonal stamp on things. Have another think about it Guardian.

    Having said that the Guardian is generally a good newspaper.

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  5. There was an instance where a comment by a user ended up being a Daily Mail story over there joke about Matt Riddley. I'd not bother linking unless someone asks. So there was an inherent potential liability, however that is the same as with any comments open story.

    I know the science blogs were lightly trafficked.

    The articles themselves were of an unusually high standard for the dead tree press. That said the newspaper is undergoing (yet another) radical make over to be more of a tabloid and they are closing articles to comments far more frequently than only two years ago.

    Perhaps another outlet would take up a proven group of low cost contributors with their own prebuilt readership.

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