Why sceptics fail to get press coverage

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”.

Conclusion

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.

 

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21 Responses to Why sceptics fail to get press coverage

  1. As you say – you have been successful in other areas which suggests while there is truth in points like we are to fair/don’t fight dirty/we don’t get our comments out fast enough. Nonetheless I think the overwhelming reason, as effectively said by the Herald editor, that the MSM si8mply censor. Britain has, in our state owned BBC, on of the most totalitarian and censored broadcasters in the world and the remaining broadcasters (regulated by Ofgen) and papers tend to take their lead from this.

    When I first started writing to papers I got at least a 50% hit rate, now it is, at best 10%. This cannot be because I know less about writing readable letters and thus must be because I know more and concentrate more on “unreportable” subjects.

    For example I have sent out nearly 1,000 letters (well OK about 20 letters to 45 newspapers) about the BBC 28 Gate fraud, whichy objectively is far worse than the Saville since it proves, beyond dispute, that the BBC have no compunction about deliberately lying for years on end – without a single one published. It is statistically impossible for that to be accidental.

  2. the press is on the Warmist’ bandwagon; which is the precursor of the biggest evil. The reputation of the press would be at rock bottom; if the whole truth is exposed

    • Stefan & Neil, I’m not saying that the press isn’t biased, however when you sit down and talk to a journalist they are reasonably willing to listen. If we had something professional I know they will print it. The way this “bias” works is that they are not going to go out of their way to help us turn the pig’s ear stuff we send them into the silk purse they need to warrant it going into their media.

      And the biggest problem is that what we do send them lacks substance as “news” … and when we do get things of substance … those involved don’t think to talk to people like me and so they ignore the possibility & needs of getting it into the media.

      There are many sceptics who produce fantastic investigate work. But they then publish it in haste and ruin any chance to get media attention. What is needed is for a smaller group to hone the research and the presentation, prepare press releases and co-ordinate the release of the research in a flurry of publicity.

      The closest we have to that is the GWPF – who being Tories don’t care f*k for Scotland which is why most of the Scottish press have never heard anything positive about sceptics.

      • Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill) is very occasionally invited to pen newspaper articles. Today one in Canada, previously one in Australia. Since he is the same writer wherever he writes an he lives in Fife but never gets invited to write articles in Scotland, virtually never in Britain the UK media simply cannot be doing anything other than censoring.

        • think of it this way: if you think about going to some activity centre you go to the website and look at the activities. Likewise, when a journalist goes and looks at a protest group they expect to see “activity” like events, information about the campaign, debates, discussions, demonstrations.

          When journalists went to the SCEF website they found no mention of any kind of activity and a website being run by one person with an occasional contribution from others. Likewise the Bishop Hill blog is just a blog – no activity, no prepared information

          • And when we ran the Climate change debate in Glasgow, something which no broadcaster or newspaper had ever done here before, how many of them were interested? Zero, nada and zilch multiplied.

            Not saying we should give up – “Sire the game is fixed but if you don’t play you can’t win” Heinlein
            Just saying we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about being censored.

      • it’s not the journalist, but every ”editor’ of every newspaper has being strategically positioned to reject anything said on the Skeptic’s side.(including the local one here)

        Scotty, what you can push is: courts, penalty, jail therms – that will make some from the Warmist side to start spiting the dummy; because they know that they are wrong – are doing it, because they see the society as lesser people – when having academics and politicians on their side

        • Calling for jail terms would be counterproductive – it was for the alarmists – but saying that anybody caught lying or “hiding the decline” should forever be ineligible for taxpayer’s money would be worthwhile.

          The same should apply in spades to the entire government owned broadcasting monopoly. Under its charter the BBC is legally required to be “balanced” but in fact it makes no attempt to be so and the judiciary makes no attempt to enforce the law.

  3. The climate debate was just what was needed for the media – except for two key ingredients:
    1. There was no opposition 2. There were no press

    But more importantly,
    – did anyone telephone journalists to ensure they turned up?
    – did anyone send a press release with photos after the event to the press?
    – did anyone put it on a website?

    To answer the last question I googled “Climate change debate glasgow”
    … and the only report I could see was my own … with my own photos. I cannot see it mentioned on any UKIP site.

    And so you really have to answer this question: “if UKIP didn’t think it important enough to publish a report on their own website or newletter why on earth would anyone in the press?”

    • I emailed a press release before to all and sundry.
      And another afterwards, including, from memory, stuff from both our websites.
      It was and I believe still is on the Glasgow UKIP site, which may well be a looong way down Google’s list.

      I think the refusal of every MSP, any if the 5,000 at Scottish Renewables conference, & our 3 universities to produce anybody willing to defend the most draconian Climate Change Act in the world would be of interest to viewers and readers on its own (indeed a few members of the public have said they heard of it anyway) but perhaps I don’t have a Scottish churnalist’s nose for a story.

      PS None of them have published any of a number of letters that mentioned it either.

      • I think you are confusing apathy to bias. When I started the Lenzie village website a few years ago I assumed that politicians would be jumping over themselves to get their name on the website – so when I started I didn’t involve any. After a few months not being hassled I emailed a few to tell them the website had started. After a few more months I wrote inviting them to contribute. After about a year and several more reminders I began to realise that they had no interest in the website … because they didn’t have the gumption to realise it would help them get re-elected … or being safe seats they didn’t need to worry.

        So when you say you found it difficult to get them involved, it doesn’t sound out of character.

        The other thing you have to remember is that no politician is going to attend if it doesn’t enhance their election prospects. So a debate speaking to UKIP members who won’t vote for them is pretty pointless for politicians from other parties.

  4. waterside4 says:

    Very interesting post.

    In past times I was an occasional letter writer to The Dundee Courier on CAGW matters.
    In fairness to the editor they published virtually all of them. They are still the only one to so do from others.
    But whenever any article of anti CAGW interest was published in the news section, they have their in-house repost from one David Dixon of WWF.
    Mainly for that reason I have ceased to write or to subscribe to their tabloid.
    It is an uphill battle, but as my glass is always half full, I believe the truth about the great scientific scam will out.
    Good luck to you and your ilk and keep up the good fight.

  5. stewgreen says:

    – Mike good you are thinking about it but
    “if you write a sensible report IT WILL GET PUBLISHED” .. rubbish the dynamic doesn’t work that way
    “If we had something professional I know they will print it” ..rubbish
    – It’s the DYNAMIC …there are blackberries all around this village that will rot and never get picked .. there is no money to be made in promoting them.. instead people will consume expensive, less healthy food, cos people will make money from the selling and promoting it ..that is the DYNAMIC of the situation.
    – The skeptics product is similar : “there is no evidence that there is a clear relationship between manmade CO2 and real world temperature AND that there is a climate trend to catastrophe”, “so no need to spend lots of panic money, no need for solar panel and windfarm subsidies etc.”. Hence a similar dynamic where
    1. no one makes any money and 2. No one gets to exercise their catastrophe religious type instinct.. no feeling of belonging, no feeling of saving the world and so many other dynamics don’t work for us
    ..Scepticism is old gray and sensible ..it is not cool and doesn’t get you a cute young hippy girlfriend/boyfriend.. etc.

    – We know there is no big oil money campaign, but that there is a massive well funded green activist PR machine and a massive base of activists who are not busy working so have the time to turn up to debates and inundate radio phone-ins etc.

    – Lisa Jardine’s presidential address at the British Association of Science “Look at this great report that says fracking is safe, why didn’t the public get to hear it ? It’s cos the government isn’t proactive enough”
    Stew in the audience questions “Come on the public see the world through the media prism and the media are in the grip of green religion” (It didn’t seem to register with her though she appeared on Today still pushing her old message 3 days ago)
    – Scotland ? isn’t Andrew Montford based near Edinburgh ?

  6. stewgreen says:

    – “$ trumps truth” is an important fact is also part of the dynamic of why skeptics will never get a fair say. There is an inherent inbalance due to advertising revenue. The people pushing the alternative reality have stuff & dreams to sell, whereas skeptics don’t ever spend money on news media advertising, so you can see an editor will go with the stories to please his advertisers.
    – Also the “alternative reality” is a never ending (boy in a well) negative story and that’s great when you have space to fill

  7. stewgreen says:

    – I can’t find stats for UK state advertising, but I guess it’s less than 20% and possibly lower than 10% of the market. There’s not so much non TV, a few advertising hoardings and the local authority job ads in miniscule market publications like the Guardian. The vast majority of ads are for consumer products (and media advertising themselves). And when it comes to green issue products, the greendream mafia seem to have heaps more adverts than the gov. Though I bet the cutting back of Australian government green advertising may make a difference to news stories there.
    – Interesting Group M (an advertising buying company part of WPP) are directly deciding what TV programmes are made. On the BBC media show http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03b2j77 , programme makers told how often when they pitched a prog for funding like on Channel 4, they were told to ask Group M directly as they would ultimately be funding the shows. That means that shows which the advertisers don’t like wouldn’t be getting made. The experts explained that laws apply to progs directly funded by the TV companies like impartiality and anti-monopoly, but those Group M doesn’t need to abide by those regulations .

    • The Green mafia advertising is largely state advertising. With the exception of Greenpeace who, they insist, never accept state money virtually all of them are state funded. The EU funds them 70% (used to be a 50% limit but the “charities” said they couldn’t raise enough outside it) and much/most/all of the rest comes from our own government.

      A very good report on these parasites – google “sock puppets” & Snowden

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