WAN-IFRA - World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

06/14/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/14/2024 03:01

A new narrative for climate coverage with impact? 5 guidelines from 5 global Climate Explorers

A new narrative for climate coverage with impact? 5 guidelines from 5 global Climate Explorers

2024-06-14. Five climate journalists from five regions were brought together in Denmark for five months with one goal: find new ways to cover climate change with a constructive lens. They shared five key guidelines at WAN-IFRA's recent World News Media Congress in Copenhagen - proving why, and how, climate coverage works.

by Lucinda Jordaan[email protected]| June 14, 2024

'Climate change is the biggest story of our time. Maybe of all times. Done the right way, articles about climate change can both engage the audience and attract readers.'
- Kristian Elster, NRK TV

The Climate Explorers program was developed by theConstructive Institutein partnership with theNovo Nordisk FoundationCO2 Research Centerto find new ways to cover climate change. The Explorers spent five months with scientists and changemakers to find new ways to cover climate change with a constructive lens.

Science journalistMactilda Mbenywe, ofThe Standard Groupin Kenya, independent journalistMahima Jain(India), independent climate journalistTais Gadea Lara(Argentina), science journalistLiam Mannix, who contributes toThe AgeandSydney Morning Heraldin Australia, andKristian Elster, a journalist from Norway'sNRK TV, shared their findings with attendees in a session on Rethinking Climate Coverage.

Each presented a key takeaway from their Climate Explorers Guidelines, outlined below.

Prof Dr Alexandra Borchardt, who moderated the session on Rethinking Climate Change, with Climate Explores: Kristian Elster, Tais Gadea Lara, Mahima Jain, Liam Mannix and Mactilda Mbenywe

Figuratively speaking: the business case for climate coverage

"Climate change is the biggest story of our time. Maybe of all times. Done the right way, articles about climate change can both engage the audience and attract readers," says Elster, from NRK, Norway's public broadcaster.

Elster illustrated this by outlining NRK's "dramatic jump in readers" in their climate change stories, after the broadcaster created two dedicated groups of journalists - in two cities - who were trained and educated on the subject.

"We also moved our journalism from being report-driven and based on individual initiatives, to a more coherent approach - with fewer, and more visual, stories."

Now: "Three out of 10 of NRK's All-time Most Read stories are climate change stories."

'Articles on climate change now have, on average, 10% more readers than all articles in general.'

Elster cements his argument that "prioritising climate change journalism works, under different commercial models," with data obtained from running all NRK's 2023 climate stories through a language model. It was developed by The Constructive Institute and classifies stories as constructive journalism or not.

The resulted showed:

  • Constructive articles have more than 50% more readersthan non-constructive articles: 149,000 on average, versus 93,000 on average.
  • Time on pageis also higher for the constructive articles.

"It's a question of priorities, not money," asserts Elster, "and these priorities showed that given the chance, climate change stories can compete."

The intersection: climate and constructive journalism

Independent Indian journalistMahima Jainshared insights on employing the constructive climate lens. Constructive journalism, she says, focuses on important social issues, with three pillars:

  1. Focus on solutions - expose the problem, but seek solutions.
  2. Cover nuances - strive for the best obtainable version of the truth
  3. Promote democratic conversation - engage and facilitate debate, including among communities

Promoting democratic conversation

Tais Gadea Lara, an independent climate journalist from Argentina has been covering COP, the decision-making body of the UN Climate Change Convention, for 10 years because: "The third pillar of constructive journalism invites us to promote democratic conversation - and if there is a space where this is needed, it is the COP."

"Promoting a democratic conversation means that we need to give voice to the different representatives of the different governments, the civil society that actively observes this process, and the scientists that are concerned about the course of decision."

How to cover COP

  1. Focus the coverage on the negotiations, and try to be careful with greenwashing. "Explainers - what COP is or what the topics are that will be discussed - are best at capturing reader attention. Plus, the explainers can be updated and reused during the next year."
  2. There is no regulation or oversight, so train journos and follow policy beyond COP to monitor the commitments - especially the empty ones. "Remember, we are covering negotiations, not negotiating."
  3. Bring that distant, complex world to the audience's daily lives. "Show the connection between what is decided inside the COP and the reality that is happening outside."

Go beyond the data to human stories

Kenyan science journalist Mactilda Mbenyweencourages a focus on the human aspect. "By covering personal impacts, we make the issue of climate change relatable. People are not powerless; they have agency."

  1. Focus on immediate local effects to make climate change tangible, eg, effect on farmers, nearby towns. "Show individual resilience and initiative in addressing climate challenges."
  2. Apply a climate perspective across all reporting areas to demonstrate the widespread relevance, and provide comprehensive coverage
  3. Show how climate change exacerbates inequalities

Conflict and denial: How to avoid polarisation with a constructive climate lens

"Constructive journalism joins the circle by adding solutions linked to common problems, bringing people in - and having them walk away with a sense of hope," notes Australian science journalist Liam Mannix, who offers advice on how to avoid polarising your audience:

  1. Focus on the science, not only politics; stick to the facts
  2. Climate denial is a major concern but not as big as once thought - more people care than not
  3. Focus on middle group: the 72% who would like to see positive change

Climate Explorer's Guidelines: 5 key takeaways

Climate journalism works when newsrooms prioritise it. Evidence shows that readers engage with a constructive narrative of climate change. This means:

  1. Focus on solutions that will reduce the emissions as well as solutions that will help communities adapt better to its impacts.
  1. Connect changes in individual behaviour to the systematic changes required. Show science as a process, not a silver bullet.
  1. Remember that every story is a climate story and climate change is also about people. Bring them to the conversation.
  1. Cover international politics and policy by linking it with the daily lives and showing the different voices of the countries involved.
  1. Do not feed polarisation by engaging with outrage and the extreme. Respond to denialism with science.

Lucinda Jordaan

[email protected]