Reporting tomorrow’s story today

UN talks offer easy news hooks for climate change stories

UN talks offer easy news hooks for climate change stories

We (the editors I mean) are apparently to blame for the lack of media coverage on climate change. This is beginning to sound a bit like a broken record. Every session I’ve been to at the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists has, in one way or another, bemoaned the fact that editors aren’t interested in stories about climate change (or science more generally) — because they’re not new or sexy, or are just plain boring.

Today’s session ‘A drought or a flood? Climate change reporting around the world’ was no exception. Paddy Coulter, from the University of Oxford, discussed his research on climate change journalism in China, Ghana and Norway, concluding that newspaper editors, especially those at business papers and tabloids, just don’t see climate change as a big story.

The problem, said Saleemul Huq from the IIED, is that “climate change is not an issue of now”. It is tomorrow’s story, or next year’s — but not today’s. Today, editors want stories that will wholeheartedly resonate with their readers, such as imminent changes in government or crashing markets.

So how to get editors to buy in to climate change coverage? Huq suggested that it’s essential to find a “news hook”. International climate talks, such as the UNFCCC Conference of Parties meetings are an easy example. And the negotiations planned in Copenhagen later this year, with all that’s riding on them to come up with a sequel to the Kyoto Protocol, are the biggest hook of all—even the most complacent editor is likely to take the bait.

But, as one delegate from the Thomson Foundation put it, “what happens after Copenhagen?” Huq said the key is to use local events to bring up related issues of climate change. For example, extreme weather events like cyclones or droughts. While any single event cannot be attributed to climate change, each one provides an opportunity to explain that such events are likely to become more frequent with climate change.

One delegate from The Guardian, suggested using technology (electric cars for example) or political tension, drama and scandal as effective news hooks.

Earlier today we heard some other tips for making climate stories appealing — both to editors and readers. “Humanise it”, was the advice from The Guardian’s Damien Harrington. IPCC chair, R.K. Pachauri agreed—“human stories have immense appeal”, he said.

The bottom line is that after Copenhagen journalists will have to become more imaginative in pitching stories about climate change.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

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