How to cover the climate crisis for your audience

Climate crisis
Via Unsplash

The spotlight is firmly on the climate following the release of the most recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). The IPPC’s conclusion is that only drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions can prevent global temperatures from rising to disastrous levels. And for publishers, this poses a real challenge in how they can best cover the climate crisis for increasingly concerned audiences.

Why it matters

The UN has said that Climate change is ‘the defining issue of our time’ and according to last year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report, climate change really matters to most people. Before the latest UN announcements, almost 70% of 2020 survey respondents said they considered it an extremely or very serious problem.

But although extreme weather events – from floods to wildfires – are happening more frequently, many people don’t feel that they are personally or directly affected. The UN’s recent warning that, “Nobody is safe” and that “Every citizen needs to play their part” underlines publishers’ role in raising awareness among their audiences.

The challenge for publishers lies in knowing how best to cover the climate crisis in ways that will inform and engage their audiences.

Covering the climate crisis

Climate stories have not been renowned traffic drivers in the past. But as the crisis worsens and public awareness of the need for urgent action grows, demand for reasoned, relevant climate coverage is increasing. Here are four steps you can take to engage your audiences with improved coverage of the climate crisis.

Make everyone a climate reporter
Until recently, most reporting on the climate crisis came from reporters specialising in science, politics or economics. There is a growing realisation, however, that every story is a climate story and every content creator needs to be able to include the climate angle in their output. Speaking about lessons learned from covering COVID, editor of the HEATED newsletter Emily Atkin said: “There is no excuse for a reporter today who doesn’t understand the basic science of Covid-19. Why is it not the same for climate change? Everyone should be a climate reporter. And if you are not a climate reporter right now, you will be.”

Promote climate ‘literacy’
To stay informed about the climate crisis, audiences need a basic level of climate literacy. Introducing them to key metrics and solutions and then referencing these regularly helps embed understanding. For example, Bloomberg Green features a consistent set of climate data on its homepage. You can test your own audience’s climate literacy with surveys and quizzes like those produced by The Financial Times and The Washington Post.

Look at content sharing
It’s important that you create climate content targeted specifically at your audience’s information needs. But you can enhance your own content with content shared by larger publishers. Covering Climate Now is an organisation set up to help journalists produce more informed and urgent climate stories. Their sharing library features a database of stories available for republication and rebroadcast from news outlets, including The Guardian, Reuters and HuffPost. Be sure to check the guidelines before republishing.

Avoid Doom & Gloom
The UN has issued a Code Red climate warning for the world, but if climate coverage is always negative, audiences are left feeling overwhelmed and powerless. That can lead to denial and disengagement – the exact opposite of what society needs. Pointing to multitudes of innovators and activists, Covering Climate Now says: “By elevating those stories, we show that climate change is not a problem too big to understand—or to tackle.”

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