Analysis: How UK newspapers changed their minds about climate change by Carbon Brief

The past decade has seen a significant shift in the attitudes of UK newspapers towards climate change, according to new analysis undertaken by Carbon Brief.

Drawing from a database of more than 1,300 editorials, which are the formal “voice” of a newspaper, this work examines how the language used to describe human-caused climate change, as well as renewables, fracking and nuclear power, has shifted since 2011.

The analysis shows that the number of editorials calling for more action to tackle climate change has quadrupled in the space of three years, mirroring a wider increase in news coverage of the topic. Nowhere has this shift been more apparent than among the nation’s right-leaning newspapers.

To investigate the scale and nature of these changes, Carbon Brief has turned to its database of more than 1,300 climate- and energy-related UK national newspaper editorials. This resource has been built up over years of monitoring the daily news coverage and expanded further using Factiva, a tool that allows users to search the global news archive by topic.

Carbon Brief worked with Sylvia Hayes, a PhD researcher at the University of Exeter who specialises in climate change communication in the news media, to undertake a qualitative content analysis of the editorial database.

The content analysis informs the charts within the piece, which are built with Javascript. We designed a custom webpage with many scroll event triggers, which allows the reader to analyse the data whilst reading through the article.

The look of the article is based on the halftone print effect of newspaper print, which is incorporated throughout the piece in the charts, video thumbnails and text highlights. We added a ‘ragout’ effect to the screenshots of text to give them a torn-paper look, and created animations of some examples of the newspapers in the database.

We also made the database available by building an interactive table, using the Datatables Javascript library. The database is an ongoing archive of UK editorials on climate change, which can be searched, filtered and links through to the original article.

This analysis marked an important era in climate policy and the ‘culture wars’, culminating in the build up to the UK hosting COP26 in Glasgow, 2021. It was shared by COP26 President Alok Sharma, international climate finance lead for COP26 Camilla Born, chief lead writer at the Times, Simon Nixon, and reporters from Washington Post and the Independent. Press Gazette wrote up the piece.