The Newsroom Summit 2019 allowed us to connect with editors and collect their ideas on how the news media could improve their reporting on the current climate crisis.
Although it is becoming increasingly clear that climate change is likely the main challenge facing humanity today, many argue that the news coverage of the topic hasn’t been successful in reflecting the urgency of the issue.
Climate change being one of the focus areas of the QUEST project, we went to the Newsroom Summit 2019, one of the leading events for news editors and organised in early November in Oslo, Norway, where we engaged with a group of news professionals during a workshop dedicated to the issue: ‘Climate change in the newsrooms: a “Work Storm” for editors’.
The session, held by QUEST’s Jacopo Pasotti, started with an overview of the main shortcomings in climate crisis communication at the moment, with Jacopo outlining seven obstacles that complicate the news coverage of climate change:
1. The topic is very complex
Linking particular events (such as extreme wildfires, floods or human migrations) directly to climate change oversimplifies the matter, and may be easily argued against by climate deniers.
2. There are words and concepts public does not want to hear
“Climate change” has become a very polarizing term. Focusing on local impacts and framing them in the climate change discourse is a more effective way to have a dialogue with the public. Yet, this should not contradict the first point.
3. Getting the facts right is hard (even the New York Times makes mistakes)
Stick to facts, double-check numbers and sources, and always mention, even in few words, the mechanisms. Do not simply say “Because of global warming this his happening”, but explain the mechanisms: “Because of global warming, the decade-long rise of temperatures due to increasing human-made CO2 emissions, this is happening”.
4. The “War” narrative has not been effective
People reject, escape, refuse wars. It is very human. Therefore framing coping with climate change as a war can be counterproductive.
5. …neither is the “No hope” narrative
If there is no hope, there is no need to change our behaviour or policies.
6. The “Apocalypse” narrative is misleading: changes happen gradually
Climate change is difficult to accept as it happens gradually. It has been happening since decades now, and it goes on happening while we continue with our lives. We need to make it clear that a planetary change is a gradual process, different from a tsunami.
7. “False balance”: media can give the impression of 50–50 split on the issue
Asking an opinion from a pro- and another from an against- expert is misleading. You can still find an expert who questions evolution, but it would be misleading to present evolution by giving the same weight to the voices of pro- and deniers of darwinism. Same with climate: 97% or more of scientists agree. As a journalist, either you allow 97 lines to scientists who agree and 3 to deniers, or you are spreading miscommunication.
The participating editors and professionals in the publishing sphere were then invited to share their own experiences and work together to come up with concrete examples on how to the quality of reporting on this complex issue could be improved.
The inputs were numerous and constructive. Focusing on simplifying messages and avoiding the false-balance issue came up as key points. Yet, in order to engage a public that is more and more confused about the impacts of climate change, and to inform them of the possible actions to move away from the path we are on, the central theme that arose from the conversations was: talk locally, think locally.
Most participants agreed that despite being a global issue, the public can better relate to climate change through local stories, local evidence, local problems – and local solutions. This is, in fact, very human, as most of us have a better sense of and a concrete will to act on what happens in our proximity. The participants therefore stressed that to improve the effectiveness of climate communication, editors could highlight more stories related to the local climate.
Thanks to Jacopo Pasotti