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Feb. 8, 2022, 2:58 p.m.
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LINK:   ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   February 8, 2022

Wolfgang Blau, the co-founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, discussed the findings of his research on media and climate change in a lecture last week at Oxford University, and published the remarks to Medium. (He was previously global COO and president, international, of Condé Nast.)

“I am saying this jokingly, but there is a tendency amongst journalists — and this applies to me as well — there is a tendency amongst journalists to believe the answer to every problem that has ever existed is to produce more journalism about it,” Blau said.

Blau wanted to get a better understanding of the challenges journalists face in covering climate:

What more it will take for the news media to realize that in the next few years, climate change is likely to require a degree of upskilling, re-training, re-hiring and also of re-thinking journalism itself that is equal to the digital shift of the last two decades?

Based on these initial questions, I spoke with and surveyed news organizations — climate journalists as well as newsroom managers — around the world for several months last year and typically asked them the following questions:

Is your organization planning to expand its coverage of climate change?

Which organizational model have you chosen in your newsroom?

What do you perceive as the greatest untapped opportunity for your climate journalism?

What are your typical obstacles and challenges in this endeavor?

Do you think your news organization is sufficiently equipped to cover climate change?

How difficult is it for you to get access to relevant scientists or relevant data for your work?

Are you or your line managers ever worried about being perceived as activists if you cover the climate crisis?

How much do you know about your readers’ interests in climate change?

Blau breaks down the news industry’s challenges into three categories: Operational, cultural, and ethical.

The operational challenges, which may be of extra interest to Nieman Lab readers, include:

Climate literacy in the newsroom: “It is extremely difficult for climate reporters to succeed in a news organization, let alone for an entire newsroom to integrate climate journalism across all desks if that newsroom staff has no basic knowledge of the science of climate change.”

Climate literacy of audiences: “As a starting point, news organizations should at least survey their audiences about their current knowledge of climate change. A less intrusive but also statistically less indicative approach is to offer quizzes on climate change as a way of gathering information and conveying basic climate knowledge.”

Audience segmentation: “Once you know that more than half of your audience is either concerned or even alarmed, you may want to shift to producing more journalism that focuses on mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change than to still focus your newsroom’s resources on just establishing or defending the very fact of climate change itself.”

Newsroom structure: “A currently prominent operational question in many newsrooms is which organizational structure they should pick to expand their coverage of climate change … I think there is no ideal structure, but all of them greatly depend on the personal engagement of a newsroom’s chief editor in order to succeed.”

Online trolling: “For newsroom managers and social media editors, it is important to not view all trolling or outright hate speech against their journalists across all topics as one and the same phenomenon. To discredit climate journalism is a key part of orchestrated climate disinformation campaigns that oftentimes are very well funded.”

Impact metrics: “With the current digital content performance metrics alone, climate journalism often is at risk of not getting sufficient placement or promotion by the news desk. In the most extreme of this behavior, news organisations need to ask themselves whether this doesn’t amount to a form of editorial greenwashing itself: To produce climate journalism so you can say you are doing it and so you can point to the URL’s of each published story while never really throwing the full authority and distribution power of your news organization’s brand behind it.”

Visuals: “Sometimes, this limited choice of picture material is not only harmful to audience engagement but can be misleading: You will have seen stories about potentially deadly inner-city heatwaves that were illustrated with people in the streets enjoying ice cream and children playing under water fountains, as if this was a ‘summer in the city’ type of story and not an event that frequently costs many people their lives, especially older people who can’t afford air conditioning.”

Access to scientists: “Covering climate change successfully does not only require knowing how to work with scientists. Increasingly, I think it also requires a much greater number of scientists in newsrooms and that more journalists learn to use the tools and methods of science journalists and of scientists in their own research and reporting.”

Attribution: “A typical mistake many news organizations are currently making in reporting about extreme weather events — such as extreme wildfires, floods, heatwaves or droughts — is to ask the binary question of whether the extreme event was caused by climate change or not. While this seems like a perfectly plausible question, it ignores the fact that extreme weather events by and large always have multiple causes. Climate change can make extreme weather events more likely and more intense, which is bad enough but is hardly ever their sole cause.”

Read the full findings here.

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