Covering Climate Now: what we can learn from a week of focused climate crisis reporting

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop talks through the key learnings of a major project to improve climate reporting that involved over 300 news organisations.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Jon Allsop works for the Columbia Journalism review. He gave a talk to the News Impact Summit in Birmingham on the Covering Climate Now project.

Warning: liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Posts will be corrected and updated in the coming days.

CJR has partnered with The Nation and The Guardian to work on a project called Covering Climate Now. They came up with a set of core principles to lead climate reporting forward.

They launched with a focused week of coverage - from 15th to 23rd September 2019 - to lead into the UN Climate Change Summit. The wanted to partner with as many news organisations as they could. They had take-up from news agencies, TV networks, newspapers and magazines. They also worked with individual experts. They ended up with over 300 partners.

The partners leant into their specialities - for example, Bloomberg looked at climate change and retirement. They also took tangential takes - like the Daily Beast covering the idea that climate change activists aren't using the right language to talk to Christians.

The Key Lessons for Climate Change reporting

1. "We don't know where to start"

Some major news organisations genuinely don't know how to get started with this sort of reporting. How can we help equip them?

2. "Our viewers will think we're activists"

A particular challenge for some TV networks, and the US in particular, is the idea that reporting these issues accurately looks like advocacy. That's a function of a particular political moments - but can we resist the pressure from a reactionary audience?

3. "It's too late; the problem is too big for us to make a difference."

Journalisst like making a difference. This is both stupid AND wrong, according to science.

4. "Readers will find this depressing and tune out."

Maragret Sullivan said that climate change is a fantastic story and if you can't tell it, you shouldn't be a journalists.

5. "We're already pulling our weight."

OK. But could you share your practices and help others do better on this?

There is a perspective that it's a rating killer - that hasn't proved to be the case. Climate change is now more searched on Google than climate change.

Read more about Covering Climate Now.

climate reportingclimate changenews impact summit

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.