I started the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum in 2012 and I spent much of the next year trying various ways to get publicity but without much success. Most of the time was spent trawling the internet looking for news to put on the SCEF website, but occasionally this process highlighted something worth going to the media and then I’d start a frenzy of activity trying to get a press release ready. But with the exception of one story about the corruption of parliament, these stories failed to get any press coverage. We even produced a leaflet – but again nothing came of it. Unfortunately, with so little success I had no idea where I was going wrong.
So, after the end of Kyoto, I decided that I had had enough of fruitless campaigning and put SCEF on hold. But seeing that UKIP were the only party with any common sense on climate, early this year I decided to join UKIP. Very unexpectedly I was hastily given the job of party spokesman on Energy. I was naive. I took the job, because I thought the press would pay more interest to press releases on energy and climate from UKIP. But the reality was no different from SCEF and it turned out the Scottish organisation had no more idea how to get press coverage than I. (Incredibly, it was not even possible to get information about climate to UKIP members in Scotland as there was no newsletter, magazine or other media through which to communicate ideas to Scottish members.)
However, as a spokesman of a well known organisation, clearly I no longer had the excuse that the lack of press coverage was because we were too small or not known. But they certainly did not give coverage to any of the deluge of material about climate which I was asked to send them by the Scottish leadership. There was something more fundamentally wrong. I talked to a few journalists – some friends – some less friendly.
Then one day, when a journalist in the Glasgow Herald nearly printed a story but it was ditched at the last minute I pushed the issue and asked why they were not printing my press releases. They said it was because:
their boss said we were just opinionated individuals pushing our views.
(By which I took “we” to mean sceptics in
I learnt a lot from that exchange – not by denying any truth in it – as many sceptics are want to do, but by really understanding what they were saying – particularly when considered in light of various other comments from journalists and my own problems with sceptics.
Unfortunately, there was probably a lot of truth in what they said and combining my experience, I would now like to suggest the reasons we do not get good press coverage is as follows:
- Most sceptics are just individuals.
As such they have no more right to be heard than anyone else and the editor was right.
- Yes, we are opinionated.
Far too much of what we sceptics say … is just hearsay which we happen to like which we then push at others. We think “X” so we think the world should also think “X”.
- Lack of original work.
Too few of us are willing (or lack time/resources) to put the effort in to create original work ourselves. In particular, we struggle to get “team work” going on anything. As such almost everything produced by the sceptics is individual effort – often poorly produced, poorly fact checked and often only of interest to the sceptic.
- We are lousy communicators.
From the various discussions I had with journalists, I suspect that one of our biggest failings is that journalists just don’t understand what we are trying to tell them. Many blogs present information which would be difficult for someone with a PhD in Climate Scepticism to understand. Then these bloggers expect the media to just pick it up and print it. In contrast, the alarmist camp is manned by academics who are full time communicators experienced in simplifying complex ideas for people who ahve just left school. No wonder politicians & journalists find it easier to understand them!
- Lack of timeliness
I have forgotten the number of times I have read Anthony Watts saying: “I won’t comment on this because it hasn’t been officially released”. And this from some one who has worked in live TV! I also got really annoyed when Andrew Montford said he got word of something coming out and did nothing about it TILL AFTER IT WAS OUT. A journalist needs a comment to go to press when they print the story. Therefore, unless sceptics get off their fat arses and tell journalists their view BEFORE THE STORY IS PRINTED. Then they will not [almost never] get their comments in print.
- A story isn’t news when people have already heard about it.
When I was working (unpaid) full time in SCEF I got extremely frustrated with the number of potentially fantastic stories which I only found after they went public. By this time, it was already too late to get press interest. This was the most demoralising thing. Seeing good stories just thrown away time and time and time again. It takes one-two days or about 16 hours of effort to take a simple story and condense it down into something that is suitable for the press. It is difficult enough getting a story in the day after something happens, but getting one in about a week later is just a waste of time. The press want to be first with a story, so realistically they want sceptics to be talking to them a few days even weeks before an article gets published in a public arena.
- Sceptics hate publicity.
From my own experience with sceptics, most are like me: they would much rather not be in the public eye. Yes! We want the public to hear our views, but we would much rather someone else stood up and told the public.
- We don’t like celebrity.
Look at any paper and it is full of celebrity. But we sceptics “don’t tackle the man but what they say”. Turning that around we get: “we don’t value the man but what he says”. That is why e.g. we often hear the quote one fact is worth more than the views of 100 scientists. But look at any paper – it is full of “tackling the man” type articles. It is full of “celebrity” – and that is what gets print.
- Sceptics are too fair.
There is a simple requirement to win a fight: to deal a knock out blow when your opponent is vulnerable. My perception is that sceptics just don’t think this kind of behaviour is “fair”. We certainly don’t “play dirty”. To use an analogy: if we were in a duel and the opponent lost their sword, we would stop to allow them to pick it up.
- We don’t fight dirty – but fighting dirty is what the media print.
So, e.g. when the Heartland Institute produced the bill-board comparing the views** of alarmists to the Unabomber, and when this was clearly getting a lot of PR this successful campaign was stopped by sceptics.
**note: it was clear from the bill board that it was saying alarmists and the Unabomber shared views NOT MORALITY. In contrast, the BBC have said a number of times on programs dealing with morality that sceptics are like paedophiles. Because they were clearly not saying that all paedophiles disbelieve global warming it is very clear the BBC were saying that our behaviour and morality is as depraved as paedophiles.
- We don’t talk about things that interest most other people: fashion, celebrity, sport, sex, TV. Asking a journalist to look at a sceptic blog must be like taking a sceptic to a baby clothes shop. To a sceptic baby clothes are like spanners – the only difference is the size and ease of use.
- Lack of organisation.
One of the first questions I was asked when I finally spoke to journalists as part of SCEF was “how many members do you have”. I found this incredibly difficult to answer. Firstly it didn’t seem important to me, because I wanted them to know about the facts (the Scottish parliament had lied to MSPs) and it didn’t seem to matter to me whether it was one person or a million. But to the journalist it seemed to be key.
In retrospect, I think he was trying to judge my credibility by the number of supporters. Or to put that another way the “number of people who shared the consensus of our group“. But sceptics don’t like joining a “con-sent-us”. So, we are not only extremely reluctant to join groups, but when we do we are extremely critical.
- We aren’t organised
By this I mean we don’t group together and allow our common views to be pooled into one “consensus” and allow others to speak on our behalf. We are literally “a load of individuals with views” and not an organisation with a view. Put together an organisation and allow it to state a view and THERE IS NO DOUBT IT WILL GET COVERAGE. But that means it has to be a real organisation. The views have to be understandable as those of the group … or at least the group has to endorse the views of a few celebrity individuals as “speaking for us”.
From my experience I learnt that newspaper stories have to about individuals. So, e.g. a story about wind farms, has to be about the people affected by wind farms.
Newspaper stories have to be about news. “No warming for 17 years” isn’t news. But if someone does a survey finding that 60% of people in Wee Burnside can’t afford to heat their homes because of carbon taxes … that is news (in Wee Burnside). This was the clear message I was getting: do the work to create news stories and the press will publish them – just keep dumping your own opinions and you will get no where.
It is news that “climate protesters form a camp”. It is not news that “sceptics say fracking is not harmful”. It would be news if “celebrity sceptic arrested for saying fracking not harmful” – it is not news if they are not arrested.
But one doesn’t have to get arrested. If e.g. you produce a reasonable piece of work – a paper with new insight into climate or credible policy proposals that have a chance of being adopted by a party and affecting the public debate (i.e. your party clearly supports you and the process by which the proposals are developed) then if any are really new, and hasn’t been published in some obscure blog before speaking to the journalist then this is news and IT WILL GET PUBLISHED (as long as it is presented in a way that newspapers can use).
So, I think it is actually very easy to create news about something. I have been successful in other areas: protests about our local nature reserve, a proposal for the location of Mons Graupius – but getting publicity requires people willing to be celebrities & make a fuss and look stupid in public and/or others willing to organise others to get off their backside. It requires timing – talking to journalists, careful preparation of material for the main stream media and not some sceptic-only interest blog
… and these just do not seem to be things which sceptics will do.