Amidst the backdrop of record heat across Europe and ecosystem destruction globally, newspapers and broadcasters are gradually ratcheting up their climate coverage. Chris Sutcliffe rounds up the year in climate journalism as part of our Media Moments 2022 report. 

Climate journalism is becoming an increasingly valuable part of a media company’s portfolio. It both speaks to the concerns of a growing part of its audience and is increasingly lucrative from an advertising and reader revenue perspective.

Despite that, 2022 has seen much of the developments around climate journalism come from cross-industry organisations and collectives rather than solo newspapers.

Collectives driving change

In January, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism launched the Oxford Climate Journalism Network. For six months at the start of 2022, it connected 100 journalists from around the world through online seminars and conference calls. It describes its mission as being to “collectively attempt to make climate journalism better – more interesting, more effective, and more relevant to audiences”.

Six months down the line, the Network published a retrospective of everything it had learned since its inception. More interestingly, it acknowledged that journalists across other verticals and sectors are invested in climate coverage: “The need for positive climate journalism communities is felt by more than just climate specialists. Our network was not composed uniquely of reporters covering climate, but also from other beats across politics, business, tech and culture. People from all beats benefited from the sense of community that the group created”.

Later in the year, another journalism collective sought to encourage newsrooms to improve their climate reporting practices. French outlet launched a charter in September aimed at empowering journalists to report on the all-to-real challenges around climate change. It is the work of 20 French journalists with experience in covering ecology and social issues – and crucially provides best practice for reporters to spot misleading studies and lobbying practices from parties with a vested interest in fossil fuels etc.

Also in September, Time took the initiative to launch a sustainability vertical with the aim of offering partnerships tools that go “beyond just offsetting their carbon emission”. This was a good example of a company that is seeking to trumpet its own sustainability bona fides, but also provides a halo effect around the rest of its activities.

That is especially relevant, as more advertisers come out of the woodwork to state they, too, want to be aligned with climate change coverage. As the marketing industry itself grapples with becoming sustainable on behalf of its practitioners and clients, it makes sense that they would seek to support the news outlets that report on the issues surrounding the climate.

Listen: Internews Europe CEO and Oxford Climate Journalism Network co-founder Meera Selva joined the Media Voices podcast to discuss how climate coverage is coming to the forefront of publisher strategies. Listen below, or search for Media Voices wherever you find podcasts.

Raising the calibre of climate journalism

A large part of the issue surrounding climate change reportage is that access to experts in the field is restricted. In part that is due to a disconnect between the disciplines of journalism and academia. To resolve that issue and bring a wider array of experts into the conversation, a database of over 400 climate scientists from 80 countries was created by Carbon Brief, in October, in partnership with the Reuters Institute’s Oxford Climate Journalism Network.

Bringing a wider range of people into the conversation around climate is part of the mission for the NYT’s climate section as well. It brought its “Climate Forward Conversations” event to London earlier in 2022, and has since run another two events in New York in September and Sharm el Sheikh in November for COP27. 

Its climate editor Hannah Fairfield (a perfect example of nominative determinism!) told Press Gazette in September that she believed the calibre of climate journalism is being raised across the industry, referring to Vox and the Washington Post in particular:  “When other news organisations hire more reporters to cover climate issues, I celebrate because it means that we – and by we, I mean climate journalists – are changing newsrooms and having an impact”.

Short-term decision-making

However, it is still the case that many news outlets are downplaying the impact of climate change, either for fear of alienating their core audiences or because of the political views of their senior editorial team. Wolfgang Blau, who co-founded the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, said in August: “I have often interacted with people at news organisations where they know perfectly well about the size of the risk we’re facing from climate change and who, at the same time, make very short term, opportunistic decisions in their framing of the issue based on what they thought would sell the most copies”.

Beyond the mendacity, some publications are simply stuck in a rut of covering climate without putting it in context. In May, the Guardian published an article arguing that the ‘fun in the sun’ photos used to illustrate front pages during heat waves is negligent, and reframes a significant long-term negative as a short-term positive.

This chapter is an extract from our Media Moments 2022 report, sponsored by Poool and published in partnership with What’s New in Publishing. To read the full report including case studies, key facts and more, please fill in the form below:

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