While the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have taken up a lot of space and energy in newsrooms recently, there is hardly any issue that will define our future more than the climate crisis: how it’s reported and received by audiences worldwide and how journalism can spur the debate on how to rebuild our economies in a sustainable way.
I’m lead author of the upcoming report “Climate Journalism That Works – Between Knowledge and Impact” – that will be published in full in Spring 2023. Working with me on this have been Katherine Dunn from the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, and Felix Simon from the Oxford Internet Institute. The report will look at how to craft journalism about climate change that is likely to have an impact and to resonate with audiences and how to restructure newsrooms accordingly. It will also include best practice case studies and Q&As from thought leaders and influencers on what actually works.
These are some key preliminary findings that we presented at the EBU’s annual News Assembly on 12th October 2022:
• Facts alone don’t help. More facts are not necessarily more convincing
• The messenger is often more important than the message. It is a matter of credibility with the audience.
• It is important to make climate impact part of all the beats in a newsroom – rather than confine it to a dedicated climate desk. All journalists need basic climate literacy.
• There is no one-size-fits-all model for newsroom organization, language to be used or visual policy. Everyone has to make it fit their resources, values, culture.
• Images matter a lot and the formats need to fit the particular audience
• Leaders experience little resistance when implementing climate strategies. When leadership doesn’t make the topic a priority, a climate desk might flourish but the rest of the journalism will stay the same.
• The media has a hard time living up to their own standards when it comes to measuring carbon footprints or making newsrooms more sustainable. Travel is a pain point.
• There is a lot of material out there on how to communicate the climate challenge successfully, particularly from the field of communication studies. Newsrooms just haven’t used it yet.
Academics doing research on climate communication have discovered: Stories are more likely to work if they are related to the here and know instead of to the distant future, tied to a local context, convey agency, are constructive or solutions-oriented, and envision a sustainable future instead of emphasizing sacrifice, crisis, destruction, loss, and disaster. While doom scrolling might capture attention for a brief moment, it also risks to drive people into news avoidance.
We also uncovered some indicators on how climate change and the environment resonate particularly with younger audiences – and how focusing on sustainable issues could help public service media speak directly to this audience and solve some of their own problems in the process.
Interestingly the same focus also appeals to young staffers – and attracts young talent – in newsrooms themselves. And there is evidence that these topics energize veteran news reporters and help promote overall diversity. They make journalism broader, more constructive, and help to break the dominance of the “he said, she said”-type of political reporting that hasn’t served audiences too well anyway.
We will cover all this and more in the next News Report. But you don’t have to wait that long to read our findings. We will be publishing selected Q&As with media leaders, climate journalists and experts in advance of publication. You can read Wolfgang Blau’s take on some of the challenges – and opportunities – for public service newsrooms.
Climate Journalism That Works – Between Knowledge and Impact by Dr Alexandra Borchardt, Katherine Dunn and Felix Simon, will be published on 1 March 2023. This blog was first published on the EBU’s homepage.