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Guardian Editor Pledges To Bolster Coverage Of Climate Change


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There's going to be a lot more coverage of climate change in The Guardian. It's a specific decision by Alan Rusbridger, the newspaper's outgoing editor, just before he steps down from his position this summer. The Guardian has an average daily circulation in the U.K. that's just under 200,000, but its online edition reaches a reported 9 million readers around the world. Alan Rusbridger joins us from London.

Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Is there something in the nature of climate change that makes it hard to cover by the standards of journalism?

RUSBRIDGER: I think it's a very hard story to cover. News thrives on things happening, it thrives on the out of the ordinary, it thrives on events that are witness-able. And climate change is really the opposite of all that. Things are happening, but they're happening too fast, you might say, for human comfort but too slow to report. And as a result it doesn't often make the front pages, whereas obviously you could say this is the most important story of our time.

SIMON: And what kind of stories would you like to see on The Guardian site from now on?

RUSBRIDGER: Well, this all came about because I'm going to be stepping down in June. And just before Christmas, I was trying to think well, what regrets am I going to have as editor? I've been editor for 20 years at The Guardian. And I thought this was going to be my one big regret, that here was this massive story that we hadn't done justice to. So when we came back from Christmas, we assembled a group and the first thing we decided that this was no longer an environment story, this was now a political and economic story. And we thought it should have a campaigning element to try and engage readers so that instead of just passively reading about it and feeling disempowered, they might be able to do something.

SIMON: Is this a good story or a cause?

RUSBRIDGER: Well, I think it's both. I mean, I think you can look two ways at this. It's either a moral question that oil and coal and gas are now like tobacco or South Africa or arms. Or, which I find equally compelling, that actually as a human race we cannot allow the majority of these fossil fuels to be dug up. And so just in pragmatic terms, if you're an investor, at some point in the next 10 years you will want to get out of fossil fuels. And so if you're smart, you would rather get ahead of it rather than be stuck with a lot of stranded assets.

SIMON: Will The Guardian still be open to other points of view on climate change? And I mean less the science than economic argument that after all people's jobs and livelihoods are important too, particularly in underdeveloped communities and countries.

RUSBRIDGER: Absolutely, and so we will be a broad church and allow other points of view in because it's obviously an area where people of good will can disagree. The one thing we're not going to argue about is what we regard as the settled question of the science. So, if other people want to argue with the consensus of 97 percent of the world's scientists, that's fine. But that's not going to happen to The Guardian over the next couple of months.

SIMON: But this can all be changed when somebody succeeds you?

RUSBRIDGER: (Laughter). Yeah, of course. The new editor can come in and decide this is all a waste of time. But even if they did, we will have got this - I hope - firmly on the agenda and in the minds of people. We've published four big pieces, each of them over three or 4,000 words. We've done the most unusual thing, which is to wrap these around the main paper, so when you pick the paper up in the morning there was no news except climate. And I went to the comment threads - there've been thousands of comments - and I thought there be pushback from the deniers and the skeptics. And overwhelmingly, people have said, at last, a newspaper's doing this.

SIMON: Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian for the next couple of months, thanks so much for being with us.

RUSBRIDGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.