A new report commissioned by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is packed with case studies and practical advice on how to improve climate journalism. Alexandra Borchardt is the lead author of the report with a contribution Kathryn Dunn and Felix M. Simon.
“If you’re a newsroom manager or have ever been in a leadership position, you’ll know that you can’t change the culture of a team, an organization, or, let alone a country, by saying once or saying, conducts one investigation, one learning scheme, one program or one content topic. If climate change journalism is to work, it must permeate everything we do. Like any transformation, it’s not something you do once and move on, it requires a change in mindset.” – Liz Corbin, EBU Deputy Media Director/Head of News
A case study shows how the AFP news agency has responded to climate coverage, which is consistently pushed off the news agenda, with the newsroom consistently taking a silent approach to the topic.
Knowledge sharing is important. AFP Future of the Planet Center
The issue of climate change was not new to Phil Chetwynd, head of Global News at French news agency AFP. In fact, he had discussed it quite a bit over the dinner table with his wife, who is an environmental investment specialist. But as with relationships, sometimes it takes a while for things to become official. “We officially made the future of the planet an editorial priority in 2019,” he says.
As France plunged into a summer that broke all temperature records, the data on the rate of change was alarming. “This really changed the way we thought. Tomorrow’s story started to become today’s story,” Chetwynd recalls. AFP’s Future of the Planet Center was born.
In addition to the digital world, which was also given priority status, a lot of attention had to be given to everything around creating a sustainable future for humanity. “There was a need to give history a much broader view. Climate journalism, which was often very dry science or political stories,” says Chetwynd. In the past, it was largely driven by traditional media reporters, many of whom had been on the scene for a long time. AFP management found that social impact and business aspects were neglected. “Now it’s about how the world is changing and what the needs are in response to these changes,” Chetwynd describes, “a lot of it is changing business practices, finding solutions. It is based on the ecological transformation of the economy.”
This was not just repackaging under a new label; In 2022, AFP merged the business and environment desks. At the beginning of 2023, the Future of the Planet Center in Paris alone employed more than 20 journalists with specialized knowledge on climate change. In addition, the AFP team includes fact-checkers who look for greenwashing and photo editors who do their best to capture the story visually.
Ivan Kuron, deputy head of the Future of the Planet Center, says two changes made a big difference. the sharing of sources between business and environmental professionals, and that all stories are now edited by the same people. “This isn’t a minor thing. It’s key to bringing our stories together.”
At first, it was difficult to get business reporters to talk to scientists and environmental reporters to find out what businesses were doing, Kuron says. “Reporters are so used to their little kicks.” But considering that only one year has passed, they got used to it quickly, is his observation.
In addition to the Paris team, AFP can deploy journalists in local bureaus on all continents. “It’s been a big driving factor that Climate Rhythm opens up opportunities to cover interesting stories around the world.” The news agency has created new jobs for professionals in areas that are or will be relevant to climate change. One of the journalists will open a shop in Manaus, at the edge of the Amazon, at the end of this year. another one will start soon in Bangkok. This decentralization strategy helps keep travel and emissions budgets in check.
Unlike many news organizations that approach journalism from a textual perspective, AFP tries to provide visuals for their climate coverage. “We don’t do things until we have big pictures. That’s how the story will grab people’s attention,” says Chetwynd. For example, the history of Northern Canada revolved around the migration of beluga whales. AFP has also made it a priority to send photographers to specific locations, without any looming news agenda, simply to capture attractive stock images that can be used later. “We sent a team on a month-long trip to Antarctica for this, and another on a similar trip to West Africa to document desertification and the corresponding herder migration. It is hard work, sometimes boring work. But you can’t have another polar bear eat the trash.”
Another key activity of the Future of the Planet Center is its emphasis on training. Editors and reporters need to understand the basic science behind climate change and be better able to identify greenwashing. Couronne alone has trained more than 200 journalists on internal greenwashing. “I have trained journalists on every continent: in Bangladesh, in Nairobi, in Europe, in the United States,” he says. He shows them what to check, what questions to ask, and the red flags, “for example, when a company has a climate target for 2050 but no interim targets.” His advice to others would be to make the courses short, frequent, mandatory, encourage them and start with management. “You must evangelize.”
Unlike most media, the AFP has developed a style guide for reporting on climate change, some of which can be found in Chapter 2. It is based on an important principle. it. We want to be fact-based,” says Chetwynd.
Although AFP has quite professionalized its approach to climate journalism, engagement is still a challenge. “Audiences are fed up,” says Chetwynd. “Climate coverage is what they want because they know it’s important, but they don’t want to read it.” That is why the agency places great emphasis on reporting the topic in a constructive manner. “We needed a much more 360-degree hands-on way to tell the story. Our customers also demanded it.” Couronne affirms that “Every time we meet with clients, they want more solutions.”
The Hub covers climate impacts and solutions for all kinds of sectors, including transport, infrastructure, agriculture and energy. However, editor-in-chief Sophie Huet-Truffem made it clear at the 2022 Arab Media Forum in Dubai that focusing only on stories that create hope is not an option for a news agency that is heavily invested in fact-checking around the world. world “The facts are terrible. But this is our job, and we’re not here just to, as one of our climate correspondents put it… hope. It is not our business,” he said in the interview. He said reporting dire facts and holding government accountable were essential to his news service’s climate strategy.
Chetwynd acknowledges that the biggest challenge for the climate center is the competing news agenda. “We launched the hub two months before the pandemic hit.
Then two years later we had Ukraine. It dies when huge news like that comes out.” One of the correspondents of the “Molorak” team happened to be a Russian speaker. suddenly he needed them for other things. “One thing we’ve learned in reporting stories is that it’s better to work these things around news events. We make great content. Evergreen content doesn’t do very well.”
From Kuron’s point of view, the slowness of it all is the biggest challenge. “We mainly cover the industrial revolution. Now we need to electrify the economy. How do we publish stories every day for something that spans decades?” What surprised him the most? Even if you cover airlines, climate is central to your industry.”
Problems to be solved
- Climate coverage was consistently pushed off the news agenda
- The topic was discussed in silos
What was done?
- Business and Environment Desks Join Future of the Planet
- Invest in climate training for editors and journalists, particularly greenwashing
- Invest in a visual strategy
- Focus on solutions journalism
- Customers did not appreciate climate coverage sufficiently. it was perceived as too dry and too political
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Great storytelling with powerful visuals
- Strong visuals are key
- High customer demand for solution stories
- Journalists quickly adapted to the new desk structure
- Training should be short and frequent
Download the report here.