Journalists still failing to sell the climate problem


Media coverage of climate change issues has not generated the hype and attention it deserves because of the media houses’ standpoints on the subject. What we continue to witness are climate change stories seeking to conform to the normal reporting standards, yet journalists need to go some steps further to capture the problematic nature of the climate change community of practice. The reason why reporting on the COVID-19 scourge is not that it is more popular than climate change issues before it, but the statistical data representation in it. It’s the facts and figures inherent in the impact of the coronavirus to human survival hence it becomes more juicy and appealing.

For climate change, reporters should not wait for massive casualties in order to grab the attention of the media audiences around the world. Climate change as a community of practice has ingredients of circumstances and impacts which can make it appealing to a wide cross-section of the society, including the aspect of human preparedness which must have a direct bearing on the livelihoods of the people. In this regard, the reporting gaps that are cropping up in daily climate change reports from a variety of the media houses need to be closed in for something captivating and attention grabbing.

In communities where climate change coverage is orienting towards human livelihoods and survival, the problematic nature of climate change is foregrounded and geared towards solutions and problem-solving strategies, where humanity can either adopt or adapt. Why climate change reporting has since not captured the zeal and attention it deserves is still a course for concern notwithstanding the massive donor funding input every developing country is currently experiencing. It is also significant that climate experts should work closely with media houses and journalists in order to shape the communication strategies and reporting styles that these journalists find lacking.

Although media houses are in business to make profits as well as to support the governments of the day, if they sufficiently streamline themselves towards climate research, published reports, climate briefs and visuals then they can come up with appealing climate data. It’s not because journalists are dumb or that they cannot learn, but they lack the necessary guidance and orientation to come up with compound climate change media coverage that resonate well with the media audiences and policymakers rather than confusing them.

In their reporting styles, journalists need to go some steps further in having that sense of vision, where they can emphasise what needs to be done next after reporting, and also who can make it happen in the long run, say five to 10 years from now. Lack of climate vision and being short-sighted in their planning or reporting, would end up backgrounding necessary resilient and livelihood options. Although journalists are often hamstrung with what should be news, this will limit their creativity, innovations and options because climate is not news but an ongoing problem.

When journalists report on climate change, normally they lose when they try to appeal to the wrong audiences instead of focusing on the poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities who need strategic placement in the climate problem story-lines so that they feel included.

Focusing on policymakers is important for influencing policy shifts, but the real beneficiaries are the marginalised and vulnerable communities because they deal directly with the impacts of climate change. Another issue which is problematic is when journalists try to appease donors who fund climate activities in developing countries by glorifying them yet these donors want climate action not communication messaging. Journalist should always try to demonstrate the extra-ordinary and uniqueness of climate change even when it’s not readily available.

Although climate change conferences are important, the same thing applies to government leadership who attend them, these are not climate concerned as the disadvantaged communities who need recovery and coping strategies.

Overreporting on people who are not directly involved and devoting acres of coverage on upcoming conferences for leaders to grease their palms would make media houses suffer from climate fatigue instead.

Climate change stories often suffer the problem of being reported as one or the same yet different and divergent perspectives are needed in order to improve the quality of coverage. Climate change ceased to be exclusively scientific, but rather interdisciplinary where every discipline should have an input so that the most needed collaborative and collective approaches are demonstrated. Journalists are also encouraged to approach climate change problems from the grassroots as they report. They should keep on identifying the sources of carbon emissions due to human and animal actions in order to correct the human hand and its anthropogenic nature.

To be a good climate change reporter, a journalist should have knowledge of sciences and geography because no matter how, some terms are subject specific and they will never change.

There are some words which have different meanings which journalists should orient themselves with, aerosols for instance. On one hand, the word means, tiny atmospheric particles while on the other hand it means a spray can.

This requires journalist to have vocabulary depth for them communicate appropriately and convincingly.

Media houses are urged to come up with a budget for reporting climate change issues, equip and empower journalists accordingly. Above all journalists need to be trained in order to have a firm grasp of scientific issues.

 Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: