Where do you even begin in covering climate change? With climate literacy, Wolfgang Blau told today’s opening World News Media Congress session.
The co-founder of the Reuters Oxford Climate Journalism Network, started with the basics of what journalists and editors “have to do” and how to do it in the very short time available.
“The year 2030 is less than 3000 days away, and it means changing just about everything we do about everything,” he said. “It’s likely to be the biggest and longest-running story ever, not least this year because of the Glasgow conference, but because of climate events.”
While the “vast majority” of news organisations are planning to expand coverage of climate issues, most are already facing a range of challenges, and Blau has identified 16.
The good news is that most are leadership challenges, and “they can all be overcome”.
He mentions four, including climate literacy in newsrooms and audiences, cultural change – including “some great scepticism” – and ethical issues.
Here’s the full list of “operational challenges” in newsrooms:
-climate literacy in the newsroom;
-climate literacy of audiences;
-access to scientists;
-attribution of extreme events; and
“Whatever you think, change is scary, and can be truly demoralising, so the challenge is to create good journalism that readers want to come back to,” Blau said.
He cites climate literacy as the starting point. Journalists are good self-learners, he says, but reference is available and advertiser support encouraging. “Young audiences consider it the overarching issue,” he says.
The pandemic has also given news organisations a point at which to consider how they do what they do.
In a conversation with World Editors Forum president and Straits Times editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez (above), Alessandra Galloni – Reuters’ first woman editor-in-chief – went beyond pandemic fears to their own “moment of great transformation”.
Gallon talked of longer-term trends including what she called “the arms race” of getting news out. Disintermediations included the trend for government and other institutions to go straight to the public, and political and societal polaristion emphasized by the pandemic. At the same time, some news organisations had felt the need to take sides on a topic as a means of holding their audience.
“Clearly there are pressures out there,” she said.
With lierally “life or death” decisions being made by audiences, Galloni (above) said the importance of “getting it right” at country and global level, had never been greater. “What we brought was our ‘glocality’, important because we could provide the trusted news for a nation – for example when governments were claiming lower figures, we were there to say ‘well actually’,” she said.
A more specific problem was that of short attention spans, which Galloni said could be address through formats. “We have to make news more digestible – almost like sound bites, short and quick, and updatable”. Climate was also recognized as “most important” and the way to attract a younger generation, “but we need to cover it in our way,” she said.
Reuters has also reviewed its approach to sources. “We’ve been lazy about sources, and it’s incumbent on us to look at this, and really important in speaking to new generations.”
The year 2021 has also been a “watershed year” for European broadcasters, with EBU head of news Liz Corbin outlining challenges ahead.
A new European Broadcasting Union news report asks ‘What’s Next’ as the group faces declining press freedom – with women and minorities targeted – but increased trust in media.
Other issues include the politicisation of public service media, and accompanying risk to funding and governance, partly driven by free market advocates including commercial competitors.
“The biggest protection is a close relationship with your audience,” she said.
Technology can be used to connect better, “but should reflect public service values” and tone should be curious rather than confrontational.
In one case study, Deutsche Welle had “turned the tables” by having politicians as the “audience”. Another, an SVT study on culture, set targets for everything.
The report stressed the importance of imagination and innovation, but also knowing when to pull the plug.
Corbin also announced a new digital cooperation, which brings together EBU members’ 40,000 journalists in Europe, with a ‘Eurovision News Monitoring Tool’ which presents content in English with a Peach tool finding related topics.
It is being used via an ‘European Perspective’ widget in members’ websites.