Why Climate Coverage Fails to Engage Audiences (and How That Can Be Improved)
2015 was arguably the most newsworthy year ever for the climate movement – but except for major events like Pope Francis’ encyclical and the COP21 summit, climate change actually suffered from a lack of media coverage. As this Huffington Post article explains, many climate experts and journalists feel climate change gets far less attention in the press than issues like the economy or the refugee crisis. Others feel it’s not the amount of coverage, but the way the subject is being addressed that’s the problem. In any case, the media’s treatment of the issue may be one reason concern about climate change has stayed relatively low, even though awareness has risen.
Here are some ways the media’s climate coverage might be improved – and some lessons for our own climate communications.
Stop creating “debates.” In the quest for ratings, media outlets often show a one-on-one conversation between someone who accepts climate science and someone who is skeptical. This creates a false sense of balance, suggesting that the facts are in debate when in reality over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and caused by human activity.
Focus on solutions. Too many stories focus on the negative impacts and dangers of climate change, which can cause people to tune out. Stories about progress and solutions, on the other hand, get very little exposure. People are more inclined to take action on climate when they believe something can be done, and see how businesses and communities are taking concrete steps to tackle climate change.
Use data to make the link between local and global. Scientists tend to look at climate change on a broad scale, while journalists focus on local topics. Data journalism, which weaves scientific data into the news story, can help audiences see the connection between an individual place or event and the long-term implications. It’s also important to communicate data on a human scale that translates to everyday experiences.
By Stella Mikhailova, contributor to The Huffington Post
With the wave of media coverage surrounding the COP 21 climate summit in Paris, it might be hard to believe that climate change and other environmental issues suffer from a lack of coverage in the press. But, while major events like the COP can lead to brief peaks in reporting, media outlets continue often to struggle to engage both themselves and their readers in these issues. The former Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, shortly before stepping down, said he felt the media was failing to meet the challenge of covering the climate crisis; it’s a view shared by many others in the press, even as seriousness of the danger posed by climate change is increasingly recognized.
At this year’s World Resources Forum (WRF) 2015 in Davos, close to 500 environmental experts from more than 100 countries gathered in Switzerland, discussing ways to solve the world’s most pressing environmental crises, including climate change. Pro Journo spoke to WRF participants to hear what problems they see with current media reporting of environmental issues and how it might be improved.
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