Why newsrooms need to rethink the way they cover the climate emergency

09.11.2021 · By Camilla Allen

With the COP26 summit well underway in Glasgow and public concern for climate change at record highs, newsrooms face growing responsibility to urge the world to confront the climate crisis once and for all. But, in a new era of climate reporting, how can journalists cut through the noise and sound the alarm before it’s too late?

The recent global initiative, Covering Climate Now, co-founded by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review urges news organizations to break the “climate silence” by increasing their coverage of the “defining story of our time”.    

But increased coverage doesn’t necessarily mean increased quality of coverage. And “how the media communicates risk and uncertainty about climate change is critically important,” says Lord (Nicholas) Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science in response to the book Climate Change in The Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty

“The media need to convey this information clearly and accurately without resorting to scaremongering,” he explains. People are already overwhelmed by information and news that engenders despair and hopelessness. What’s needed now, he suggests, is constructive reporting that highlights positive solution stories and information on how individuals and organisations can actually help.

For instance, The Guardian, while amending its housestyle to better convey the alarming reality of climate change by substituting words like “climate change” with “climate emergency”, and climate change “sceptic” with “denier”, has shifted its focus to more constructive and positive reporting on the crisis.

For example, its Keep it in the Ground Campaign turns its focus to hope for the future in order to “spread a message of hope that the world can stop climate change.”

It’s evident that there is no time for news organizations to miss the mark when it comes to the delivery of climate coverage and changes must be (and are being) made today.

With that in mind, here are five ways to improve climate change reporting within your newsroom. 

1. Spread climate reporting across the newsroom

The climate emergency is a human issue that affects all areas of journalism and should also be covered in articles not specifically focused on the climate. The crisis affects all aspects of human life, from film and sport to business, health and real estate. Therefore, journalists should constantly be on the lookout for a strong climate angle on all topics.

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For a great example of how to link the climate emergency and sport, check out this article from The Times. 

All segments of the newsroom must work together to form a collaborative hub in which information and ideas can be shared easily. 

See how LOYAL can help you access your entire newsroom’s archive, across all topics, quickly and effectively as you work on an article here. With quick access to articles across your publication’s archive, you can quickly make links between articles to add context and depth to your story.

LOYAL’s archive search allows for quick access to the whole of your publication’s archive over any timespan, enabling you to widen your search, uncover and optimise evergreen articles on climate-related topics across the newsroom and build SEO link value across your publication through internal linking and continued updating of content. 

This means that with the help of LOYAL, a sports journalist, for instance, can quickly and effectively link to articles published by the science desk of a newsroom to add context and authority to their piece.

2. Focus on constructive, positive climate reporting

According to Climate Change: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty, a study on around 350 articles in three newspapers across six countries with a combined circulation of at least 15 million found that the most prevalent messages that readers received were predominantly ones of disaster or uncertainty.  

As we discussed, limiting your coverage to ‘doom and gloom’ stories can be an obstacle to reader engagement. Negative stories can dull an individual’s sense of empowerment which is exactly why solutions journalism is gaining more traction in the climate sphere, providing information for individuals on a personal level.

LOYAL’s sentiment analysis feature enables you to gauge the tone of an article in seconds so you can make informed decisions on how positive an article is as you search for climate-related information to support your piece.

Check out this short video to see how it works:

3. Tell stories your audience can relate to

Each reader will have a differing degree of pre-existing knowledge which will ultimately affect the way they digest your coverage. One way to understand your readers better is to create a set of audience segments and produce targeted reporting for each.

“News organisations need to measure the knowledge of their audience through quizzes, for instance, in a playful manner, or through representative surveys,” suggests Wolfgang Blau in this fascinating podcast by Reuters.

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Find out more about the Earth Journalism Network, a global network enabling journalists from developing countries to cover the environment more effectively.   

4. Use the power of visuals

Using infographics, striking photography and video are all effective ways to deliver rich and complex science to readers in a more engaging form.

Here are some great examples of publishers doing it right:

  • This powerful visual representation from The Guardian depicts the responsibility of the 20 largest fossil fuel companies
  • This video shows the Financial Times  and The Royal Court team up to dramatise the devastating impact of inaction on climate change 
  • This infographic from the BBC translates the global 1.5C target all the way down to the city level. 

5. Tap into helpful resources 

There’s a plethora of fantastic resources available for journalists looking to cover the climate crisis in a more effective and powerful way.

Check out this list to get started: 

  • The Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN) is a new programme from Reuters on a mission to help journalists and editors develop their coverage of climate change.
  • TipSheet is a bi-weekly source of story inspiration and interview leads for journalists reporting on the environment from The Society of Environmental Journalists.
  • Climate Matters, an initiative from Climate Central that helps meteorologists and journalists report on climate impacts and solutions. (Check out their media library)

With access to expert advice and the right tools journalists have a unique and brilliant opportunity to change the world, one article at a time.

Find out more about how LOYAL can help you target your research and deliver credible news to your reader. 

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