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Covering climate change: Four tips for newsrooms

Tell local stories, use smart visualisation, and offer solutions

The climate crisis is likely the most important issue of our time. A recent study shows that climate change already affects 85% of the world’s population. According to the 2020 Digital News Report around 70% of people in multiple surveyed countries thought climate change is a serious problem. Young people are especially concerned.

The major international climate conference COP26 kicked off on October 31st. It has the ambitious goal of getting world leaders to commit to ambitious, concrete new measures (i.a., to cut carbon emissions). With increased attention to the topic, news media are dedicating more resources to covering it. 

The Economist launched a climate podcast and held a week-long event. The New York Times is preparing a slate of over 70 events, “including panel discussions, workshops, community-curated sessions and film screenings.” The Washington Post started a climate policy newsletter. 

Few newsrooms have the resources to launch special climate-centered projects and assign multiple people to focus only on the topic of climate change. Still, there are ways that help draw attention to the topic and convey its urgency to the audience, while not harming the business in the process. Here are four tips all newsrooms can benefit from. 

Tell a local story

Some people consume the media to learn more about global planetary problems, but most people, most of the time, are interested in the issues that directly impact their everyday life.

If you are not The Economist, it’s important to find a local angle and highlight how the climate crisis is affecting, or might affect, the communities your newsroom is covering. 

Access to local data is often scarce, Meera Selva notes writing for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Still, particularly in Europe, there are local datasets from governments and NGOs, as well as local environment and climate experts.

For EEA countries, the European Commission and the European Environment Agency maintain detailed country profiles featuring climate data. In Ukraine, for example, an NGO developed an interactive map of the country reflecting projected sea level changes induced by climate change in the future, a useful tool for local outlets.

Find a relevant angle

While it’s important for journalists covering climate change to understand its basic science, it doesn’t have to be a scientific story for your readers and listeners. The climate crisis impacts most aspects of life. 

Sometimes, it’s not a choice for reporters. As Adele Machado Santelli highlights in her paper, in Brazil (a country highly impacted by climate change), “environmental news impacts every beat,” from economics to crime. 

Other times, it’s up to journalists to find an interesting angle. “The climate crisis is a story for every beat… whether you cover business, health, housing, education, food, national security, entertainment, or something else, there is always a strong climate angle to be found,” CCNow notes. Climate reporting can center on anything from religion to sports and wine

Use smart visualisation 

Stories are more powerful than graphs and maps, but good graphics will strongly enhance your climate coverage. 

Writing for Nieman Lab, James Cheshire highlights the power of maps – and the importance of using ones that would be easy for non-expert readers to understand. Cheshire points out “[maps’] ability to show us simultaneously that as global average temperatures rise, local conditions threaten to become ever more extreme.”

Of course, sometimes just a good photo can tell a story. It’s not only struggling polar bears in the Arctic, but also the impact of fires and floods in North America and Europe, and even just the impact of climate crisis precautions on people’s everyday lives. 

Show the solutions 

Educating readers and listeners about the problem is important, but so is offering solutions to the problems. 

Climate coverage has evolved significantly over the past decade, and “solutions journalism seems to be gaining more traction in the climate field, which many advocate as an essential editorial corrective [to past flaws in coverage],” James Painter and Shannon Osaka note for NiemanReports.

More resources than ever are available on the topic, and showing local-level solutions, whether it’s personal responsibility or political action, is, and should be, an increasing focus to media outlets.


More from The Fix: Is Solutions Journalism A Solution?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


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