Step Change in New Media’s Climate Coverage

Step Change in New Media’s Climate Coverage. News media is taking steps to improve its coverage of the climate emergency. Almost two-thirds of news executives believe their coverage is good, and half have created climate teams with additional staff. Many publishers have also developed strategies to improve their coverage, including creating a focus on solutions, incorporating humor and heart, and reducing their carbon footprint. Training programs and cross-country initiatives are being developed to increase awareness and share best practices in climate journalism.

This trend originates from the report:

Reuters - Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends & Predictions 2023.

The last year has seen another spate of extreme weather events across the globe, including severe heat waves in China, famines in Somalia and Ethiopia, wildfires in California, and drought across Europe – not to mention catastrophic flooding in Pakistan. The news media are routinely criticized for covering these stories breathlessly, without joining up the wider dots or following through on the lasting consequences. Others argue that the media have too often treated climate as a discrete subject, rather than as an integral part of wider political and economic decision-making.

Moves are afoot to change this with enhanced specialist teams, and new strategies for sustainable journalism, according to our survey results (below). Around two-thirds of our sample (63%) of news executives now rate their own coverage as good, even if many also admit that engaging audiences with the often-depressing outlook for the planet can be a tough sell. In our survey half of respondents (49%) say that they have created a news climate team with just under a third (31%) hiring more staff to cover different aspects of the crisis.

Amongst these are National Public Radio and the Washington Post, which announced in November 2022 that it would be tripling the size of its climate team to 30 people. Enhanced coverage includes Climate Lab, a section that uses data and graphics to show the impact of global heating, a climate advice columnist, and consumer guides to help consumers navigate choices about how to live sustainable lives. There’s also a new part of the website focusing on solutions, including potential technological breakthroughs.

Many other publishers have launched podcasts and newsletters this year. Three in ten (30%) say they have developed a strategy to improve climate coverage. One example comes from the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK which aims to do more than just explain the science.

It also plans to engage audiences with humor and heart and to ensure that there is real accountability for pledges made by politicians, businesses, and environmental organizations. Meanwhile The News Movement (TNM), a start-up aimed at creating content for younger audiences, is building content around the idea of a ‘Better Planet’, bringing together climate, biodiversity, solutions/innovation, and the impact of food and diet. This approach came out of detailed audience research into the subjects that interested the target group.

A third of news executives (33%) also say they have taken steps in the last year to improve sustainability. Schibsted, for example, has been working to reduce the carbon footprint of its reporting and production and this is backed up by an annual sustainability report with a dedicated unit working on these issues across the company. Around a quarter of our survey respondents (23%) say they have embarked on training programmes to increase awareness, with more than four in ten (44%) recognising that elements of the climate story need to be part of wider coverage across the newsroom.

In Austria, publishers recently got together to create a set of guidelines for newsrooms including the accurate use of language, coverage of solutions as well as problems, separation of fact and opinion, and the creation of resources and structures to support better coverage across disciplines.16 Cross-country communities are being developed, including our own Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN) to share best practice..