A new report commissioned by the EBU delivers solutions-oriented advice for newsrooms on how to cover the climate catastrophe effectively, based on tried and tested, practical solutions from public service media outlets and other newsrooms across Europe and beyond.
Dr Alexandra Borchardt is the lead author of the EBU News Report 2023: Climate Journalism That Works – Between Knowledge and Impact. She says, “The climate crisis will define our future more than any other issue. But we’ve found evidence that audiences are turning away from climate coverage because it’s simply not delivered well. News outlets can – and must – do better – and we have constructive recommendations that, if utilized, could be game-changers for them and for how audiences engage with this complex subject.”
Climate journalism can be uncomfortable. Audience surveys* show that too much is reported, but too little is explained. It’s a subject that needs hope, yet news reporting often comes from a position of fear, warning and threat. This approach neither explains the issue or gets audiences on side. They turn off. This is a big issue for newsrooms, alongside other challenges such as the complexity of the subject and striking a balance between climate fact and climate activism. Too often, the media is accused of bias and this can make them wary of covering the story at all.
Dr Borchardt says, “Good climate journalism isn’t optional. Ethical principles require journalists to research and report the facts, to hold power to account and to inform and educate the public. Public service media have a particular responsibility in this. But it’s also not straightforward, which is why this report prioritizes manageable solutions that have been tested by newsrooms. Solutions that can work for all news outlets.”
The report examines how to craft climate journalism in a way that will resonate with audiences as well as how to reorganize newsrooms so that coverage of climate impact is integrated into all beats rather than being relegated to a separate climate desk. No matter their specialty, all journalists should receive a basic education in climate literacy.
It also includes best practice case studies and Q&As from different news outlets, thought leaders and influencers on what actually works, using 11 detailed case studies. The report is based on more than 40 interviews with media leaders, communications’ scholars and consultants from all over the world, as well as the latest research.
The analysis focuses on solutions – practical advice for developing reporting strategies - and it explains why so many newsrooms have been "climate silent" for so long. It also reports on tried and tested changes, using examples from the industry, emphasizing the need to develop consistent sustainability strategies for media organizations.
Dr Borchardt adds, “There’s 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.”
The research also shows how younger audiences are particularly concerned about climate change and the environment, and how focusing on sustainable concerns could help public service media speak directly to this demographic and, in the process, solve some of their own challenges. Additionally, it is playing a bigger role in hiring. Environmental concerns entice young talent to newsrooms, motivate current staff and support diversity goals in general. The report concludes with the assumption that developing strategies for powerful sustainability journalism will contribute to making media organizations more sustainable, also from an economic perspective.
Liz Corbin, EBU Deputy Director Media/Head of News, says, “How we cover the impact of human activity on our environment will form the basis for how history judges this generation of journalists. But climate journalism is too easy to delay when there are new and breaking news stories competing for our attention. We need a change in mindset so that climate is front and centre of everything we do. It needs leadership, determination and a strong strategy. This report shows us what works and how to make it happen.”
Climate Journalism That Works – Between Knowledge and Impact by Dr Alexandra Borchardt, Katherine Dunn and Felix M. Simon, is available from 1 March 2023.
The report features detailed case studies on climate journalism that works from: AFP; CBC; Deutsche Welle; Financial Times; France Télévisions; NRK; Radio France; RAI; RTÉ; WDR; the Weather Group; and the World Economic Forum.
There are also insightful Q&A’s with these experts: Lance Bennett, University of Washington; Wolfgang Blau, Co-Founder, Oxford Climate Journalism Network; Nanette Braun; Chief, Communications Campaigns, United Nations; Manuela Kasper-Claridge, Editor-in-Chief, Deutsche Welle; Saffron O’Neill, Geographer/Associate Professor, University of Exeter; Sophie Smith Galer, TikTok Journalist/Reporter at Vice World News; Carys Taylor, Director, albert; Matt Winning, Comedian/Environmental Economist.
*Digital News Report 2022 – Reuters Institute