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Being skeptical of sources is a journalist’s job — but it doesn’t always happen when those sources are the police
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July 17, 2020, 11:20 a.m.
Reporting & Production

“After years of quoting climate-change deniers in the name of journalistic norms of objectivity and balance, news consumers have been trained to focus on whether or not climate change is a
natural or human-made phenomenon, fueling climate-change denial,” journalist and media strategist Caroline Porter writes in a new report for the Center for Cooperative Media. Journalistic collaborations around climate change coverage have increased over the past few years, and Porter writes about how those collaborations can benefit the beat and shape it going forward.

Here are some findings and ideas from the report:

— Climate-reporting collaborations have become increasingly popular. The report identifies 40 such collaborations, dating back to 2008 (based predominantly but not exclusively in the US. The number of collaborations increased sharply in 2010 and again in 2019.

 “Collaboration can reduce the noise around issues of bias and mistrust that climate reporting can encounter.” Collaboration helps this reporting genre move beyond the is-it-or-isn’t-it-real “debate” in a number of ways, Porter writes. Among them:

[By] drawing from more resources and sources, climate-reporting collaborations can reimagine the standard news story to be more about people and how they are affected by climate change, making climate-change denial harder to uphold.

John Upton, Climate Central’s journalism partnerships editor, explained a guiding principle of Climate Central’s storytelling. “We don’t do stories about science or data; we do stories about people,” said Upton, noting that as a general rule, every story’s opening sentence must be about people, rather than scientific surveys or statistics.


Working together can move climate-change and environmental stories up the reporting agenda, expedite the reporting process, and often scale across audiences, leading to faster and more visible results. Plus with more attention and journalists on a story, access to sources increases.

One popular form of climate-reporting collaboration is the syndication model, in which partner news organizations cross-publish each other’s work for free. The Climate Desk, Climate News Network and Covering Climate Now all leverage some version of this collaboration.

“Improvements are fragile.” As Covid-19 became a major story this year, climate change reporting has fallen, says Max Boykoff, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Studies.

“Improvements are fragile,” he said. “We picked up media coverage [of climate change or global warming] around the world that from 2018 as a whole to 2019 as a whole, had gone up 73 percent,” said Boykoff, referencing data analysis produced by the Media and Climate Change Observatory, a multi-university collaboration. Now in 2020, the media coverage of climate change or global warming decreased 59 percent from January to May, which he described as a stunning decline. “We need to build more resilient systems so they are not as vulnerable to shocks.”

You can read the full report here.

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