A sampling of survey opinions from a small group of local broadcast news directors provides a first-time glimpse into attitudes toward climate change as they play out on local TV programming relied on by so many Americans for their science news.

The George Mason University authors of the study, pointing to the 79 invited news directors who actually participated in the survey, urge “caution in interpreting our findings” while at the same time suggesting that low survey response rates (79 out of 433 news directors targeted, for an 18.2 percent rate) “do not necessarily indicate inaccuracy in the data.”

The survey is a follow-up to an earlier survey conducted by the same group on TV meteorologists’ attitudes toward climate change science. The authors of the new study say it suggests that TV news directors “appear less skeptical about the science of climate change than are TV weathercasters, although many still question the scientific consensus.” The study said 15 percent of news directors, compared to 27 percent of TV weathercasters, “agree with the statement made by a prominent TV weathercaster: ‘global warming is a scam.’”

Again — mindful of the caveat to interpret the findings cautiously — some key results:

  • 10 percent of respondents said their stations have a full-time science or environmental reporter.
  • Two-thirds of news directors said they support an expanded role as “station scientist” for their weathercasters, and more than 9 out of 10 think their weathercasters should have degrees in meteorology.
  • Fewer than half say their news programs cover climate change once a month or more often, and most think that frequency will remain constant in the future.
  • Few TV news directors responding to the survey, about 28 percent, said they have “experienced obstacles” in reporting on climate change, and those who have point to issues such as perceived scientific uncertainty, complexity, difficulty finding a local angle, and lack of time. Fewer than 3 percent of the small number of respondents pointed to pressures from advertisers or station owners as an inhibiting factor.
  • 89 percent said they favor “additional training and education” for their weathercasters, and 92 percent said the same for their news staffs.
  • Their most credible information sources on climate change? NOAA, the National Weather Association, the American Meteorological Society, state climatologists, “my own TV weathercasters,” climate scientists, and peer-reviewed journals.
  • “News directors express considerably more trust in the IPCC (66 percent) than do TV weathercasters (44 percent).” and
  • 90 percent of those responding said their coverage must reflect a “balance” of viewpoints. The GMU researchers at this point commented that “Covering climate change stories, however, with such ersatz balance can have serious negative repercussions for public understanding of the science.”The George Mason study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is available online here.