What I learned from 50+ journalists and scientists about climate change reporting

Today, the European Forest Institute and the Global Editors Network are launching Lookout360°, a 6-month Climate Change Immersive Story Accelerator. Here is why.

Take a look at the details about the programme via: https://apply.thelookoutstation.com/

A few months ago, I made a tough decision to leave the European Journalism Centre where I was given an opportunity to develop initiatives like the Verification Handbook and the News Impact Summits & Academy series together with the industry experts. With Adam Thomas joining as the new director (who is doing an amazing job, by the way), I knew I would be missing out on being part of the revolution to help journalism communities innovate with new ideas and technology.

But a feeling of urge to go beyond journalism, especially in the age of distrust in media, has grown in me over the past few years. We’ve seen many great achievements through a number of collaborative journalism projects including Electionland and the Panama Papers(and now Paradise Papers). But when we talk about fact-checking and accuracy in reporting or using data to tell stories, journalists need support from those who can provide facts, data and evidence.

Scientists undeniably play a big role in supporting the work of journalists. But can and should theses two communities collaborate?

The field of science is broad and wild, but when it comes to topics like climate change, journalists counter a number of issues. As Brendan Fitzgerald from CJR writes:

“Journalists attempt to explain, if not to convince. But climate change too often confounds our attempts. Scientific language is too specialized. We shy away from complicated topics; last year, evening newscasts from four major broadcasters spent less than an hour discussing climate change. When wildfires rage and hurricanes churn, we struggle to link them to our behaviors and our policies. The impacts of climate change look different in Wyoming coal country than they do on the Gulf Coast.”

I decided to speak to 50+ journalists and scientists to understand how they perceive climate change reporting and how they see collaboration. The background of the people varied from editors-in-chief to environmental journalists, from forest scientists to climate scientists, and from video journalists to social media editors. Soon after speaking with the first dozen, I’ve come to realise the issues are many and various, and often multi-faceted.

To share some of the findings:

  • With no surprise, journalists are hugely challenged with covering climate change. It’s complex, time-consuming and often expensive. Reporters are interested and eager to cover the topic, but also encounter issues when it reaches the editorial level.
  • Many journalists see the opportunities with reporting climate change with data, videos etc. While they would like to try, they rarely get a chance to explore new ways to tell climate change stories.
  • Many scientists are also excited about new ways of digital storytelling, but many of them also did not see the point in speaking to journalists (ouch).
  • Science is all about facts, data and evidence. Scientists are worried how scientific data and facts are used in stories produced by the journalists.
  • There is a huge “trust” issue between journalism and science communities. Many scientists were quite skeptical in collaborating with journalists because of how they cover scientific topics.
  • Journalists need data and story ideas to be able to report about the topic. Scientists have hard time articulating the information journalists need.
  • There are many great science-media initiatives like Climate Feedback, Climate Central, Earth Journalism Network, Climate Publishers Network etc, but we can do more with putting the topic on digital storytellers’ agenda.
  • Both science and journalism communities saw video as the most engaging medium for digital media. Digital journalists, especially those with #ddj and graphics background were excited about scientific data.

Tough, but exciting. Because there is a big mission ahead of us to connect these two communities for more accurate, more engaging storytelling about climate change.

So where are we going from here?

If you never try you’ll never know. This is the reason why we, at the European Forest Institute, are launching The Lookout Station, a new initiative where we will develop a series of programmes that focus on connecting journalism, science and digital innovation around the topic of climate change. (The site to be launched on 1 December, 2017.)

To lead the way, we are launching our very first pilot project called the Climate Change Immersive Story Accelerator, a new 6-month media support programme for journalists who are eager to get started with producing immersive stories on climate change. As a pilot project, the European Forest Institute and the Global Editors Network are launching its very first edition called Lookout360° that focuses on 360-degree video storytelling.

What’s very exciting about our programme is we are not only collaborating with the 360 video storytelling experts, but also other science organisations and the Sami community represented by the Sami Parliament in Finland.

Tiina, the President of the Sami Parliament of Finland will also join our in-field bootcamp in Inari to share their stories and insights.

This is just a beginning of the unknown journey. I would love to speak to journalists who are interested in collaborating with scientists, and scientists who are interested in connecting with journalists. Contact me via email (rina.tsubaki[AT]efi.int) and let’s get our conversation going.