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Jan. 11, 2022, 3:20 p.m.

It’s a new year, and the media industry’s problems from 2021 and years past will carry into 2022. Chief among them, though, is covering the climate crisis.

A new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford published on Monday compiles a slew of media industry-related trends and predictions. The subsection of the report titled “The Challenge of Reporting Climate Change,” outlines how publishers face several challenges in covering the most important story of our lifetime, but still highly regard their own work.

“The World Health [Organization] says that climate change is the ‘single biggest health threat facing humanity’ but only around a third (34%) of publishers think that news coverage is good enough, with a further third (29%) saying it is poor,” the report says. “News [organizations] have a higher opinion of their own reporting (65%) but this gap suggests that there is more collective work to be done both to raise awareness in general and to make the story relevant to all audiences.”

The Institute surveyed 246 leaders, ranging from executive editors to heads of business transformation, in journalism, media, and technology from 52 countries on several issues. The report found that these are most commons obstacles to covering the climate crisis:

  • The slow nature of developments makes it a poor fit with a fast-paced news cycle.
  • Audiences are put off by the depressing outlook, leading to feelings of powerlessness.
  • There is a lack of money to hire specialist journalists who can explain the science.
  • Original coverage is expensive as it often involves travel to far-off places.
  • The story is very complex (CO2 emissions, biodiversity, etc.) with no easy solutions.
  • Pressure exerted from owners and advertisers, not yet aligned with required changes.

Given those challenges, the report says that we should expect the following from news outlets in 2022:

    • Building more scientific expertise in newsrooms

Vincent Giret, Executive News Editor at Radio France, argues that there is a fundamental “weakness of scientific culture and background of our newsrooms and our way to select and hire young journalists is too focused on classical and literary backgrounds.”

“We need to stop being hesitant about calling it the single biggest challenge in the next ten years and to start covering climate change in every single beat – from economy to politics and society,” argues Natalia Viana Rodrigues, Executive Director at the Agência Pública in Brazil.

    • Constructive and accessible coverage

“There is plenty of reporting, but most of it is dystopian,” says Götz Hamann, Head of Digital Editions at Die Zeit. The paper has developed a section called Green which tries to find new, more constructive perspectives on climate reporting. For example, it only features interviews about the difference companies are making today, rather than what they might do in the future.

Francisco Balsemão, CEO of Portuguese publisher Impresa, argues that “Journalists need not only to know their facts but to wrap them up in a way that they are appealing.”

    • Joint initiatives to tackle climate change

[The collaborative news service] European Perspective facilitates the sharing of original content between participating public broadcasters. Automated translation using AI/machine learning tools is making it easier to make use of this shared content. In the first six months of operation stories generated this way, mostly about climate change, COVID-19, and other science subjects, received 14.5 million page views in eight different languages.

Other examples include the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN), a new [program] of collaboration and scholarship from the Reuters Institute and the Rainforest Investigations Network funded by the Pulitzer Center, which is using publicly available data to map forest loss and turn these into stories. It is developing new journalistic skills that mix statistical modelling, data, and cartography.

    • Impartiality and climate change

One burning issue for journalists in 2022 will be the extent to which news [organizations] should actively campaign for greener solutions or just report on them…The Guardian now uses terms like ‘climate emergency’, ‘climate breakdown’, and ‘global heating’ to convey greater urgency. Expect more debate on these issues in newsrooms this year as pressure grows from younger journalists who believe their [organizations] should take a more activist stance.

Read the full report, which also delves into other trends such as increasing subscription revenue, improving existing news products, and investing in audio and newsletters, here.

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