FRANCIS MUREITHI: How media should approach climate change stories

Journalists should remember that every story is a climate story and climate change is about people.

In Summary
  • For climate change stories to make sense to ordinary people, the science must be broken down; it must be put in a very simple and relatable manner.
  • The reporting should be done the right way; simple to understand and engaging for all audiences.
Journalists coveringh a media briefing.
Journalists coveringh a media briefing.
Image: / FILE

In the last few weeks, I have been to different parts of the country to train editors and reporters on climate change reporting.

In one of the many sessions I moderated, I separately asked journalists from Kisumu and Mombasa whether reporting on climate change by media houses has gone up in the last year.

Their answers were unanimous that the coverage has been on an upward trajectory.

But what triggered their unison response?

While a section of them cited climate change as "the new girl in town”, others said the money issue has increased media focus on climate change reporting.

Some said increased training and capacity-building sessions for journalist on reporting about climate change have boosted their understanding of the topic hence being able to tell more stories better.

A fraction of the participants said the coverage has gone up because ordinary people, the citizens, are increasingly bearing the brunt of climate change hence the need to focus more on such stories.

Interestingly, the majority of journalists said their coverage of climate change focuses more on the problems and suffering communities face that are linked to climate change with very little attention to solutions.

There is no doubt that climate change and environmental issues are some of the world's biggest challenges.

Therefore, journalists have an ethical responsibility to inform the public about them.

It is an indisputable fact that climate change affects every aspect of life.

As such, journalists must help people make better decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities.

This coverage has been going up with journalists from print, digital, TV, and radio reporting on a wide range of topics.

Many of the stories told focused on the impact of climate change on people's lives, such as droughts or floods displacing communities.

However, there is a need for better research on how traditional media and new media are covering climate change stories.

Global coverage

According to the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) team, media attention to climate change in 2022 was the second highest in 19 years of monitoring, up 38% from 2020 and 7% from 2019, but down 11% from 2021.

The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report also found that climate change coverage in 59 countries increased from 47,000 articles in 2016–2017 to 87,000 in 2020–2021.

Studies have found that the public learns more about science through consuming mass media news.

For climate change stories to make sense to ordinary people, the science must be broken down; it must be put in a very simple and relatable manner.

The reporting should be done the right way; simple to understand and engaging for all audiences.

When it touches me, or when you demonstrate how it affects me, I will easily connect with the story.

If I see how it affects or relates to me, then I will be more interested.

But if it is very complex,  too scientific or remote, then the chances of getting the much-needed engagement will be minimal.

Which way for newsrooms?

One way newsrooms can improve coverage of climate change stories and make them impactful is by adopting the solutions journalism approach.

Some call this transformative journalism while others prefer to call it constructive journalism.

Solution journalism has four pillars.

First, it focuses on a response to a social problem; it explains the causes and context of the problem.

The second pillar is that it has evidence. The stories should have data or qualitative results that show the effectiveness of the response.

It is upon the journalist to ask the necessary questions to get the required evidence.

The third pillar is that this kind of journalism also focuses on limitations.

Here, stories reveal the response’s shortcomings.

Take note, no response is perfect. There is always room for improvement.

Hence, stories should also cover what does not work about the response and place it in context.

The last pillar is that the story offers insights.

It highlights lessons that make the response relevant to others. This means the lessons can be replicated elsewhere.

Why does this kind of journalism matter for climate change reporting?

This kind of journalism transcends traditional reporting by not only uncovering challenges, but also spotlighting constructive responses, offering hope, and inspiring positive change in society.

It stresses the transformative power of storytelling to illuminate solutions that drive societal progress.

Such journalism will help audiences easily see their place in the whole debate on climate change.

It will easily make them understand their role in climate change adaptation and mitigation,  promote democratic conversation, and engage and facilitate debate, including among communities.

The stories should add solutions linked to common problems, bringing people in and having them walk away with a sense of hope.

Reporters should not only focus on science but also simplify this science and demonstrate how it relates to what is happening on the ground. They should stick to facts while doing this.

Journalists should remember that every story is a climate story and climate change is about people.

Bring them to the conversation.

 

The author is the Radio Africa Group Digital Editor. Views expressed here are his own.

Journalists cover a media briefing at Ufungamano House, Nairobi, on July 21, 2023.
Journalists cover a media briefing at Ufungamano House, Nairobi, on July 21, 2023.
Image: LEAH MUKANGAI
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