September 6, 2019
Regardless of political party or geographic location, climate change has become a topic that people cannot ignore. However, the question still remains: How do we integrate environmental stories into our local newsrooms?
On Sept. 5, EIJ19 held its breakout session, Climate Matters: Fitting a Planet-Sized Story Into Your Newsroom. Panelists included:
- Edward Maibach, Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication
- Bernadette Woods Placky, Chief Meteorologist and Climate Matters Director at Climate Central
- Mike Goldrick, News Director at WRC-TV.
In his opening presentation, Goldrick quoted Frank Mungeam, a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, who said that “in 2019 journalists will overcome the worry of taking sides and show the courage to tackle this complex story.”
Goldrick was first inspired to introduce a climate franchise into his newsroom after viewing journalist Chuck Todd’s hour long session of “Meet the Press” on climate change.
“In Chuck’s preamble to the show, he talked about how ‘we aren’t going to debate climate change. Climate change is real, the science is settled, and what we are going to do is we are going to talk about the issue itself.’ And I think thats what did it for us,” Goldrick said.
It starts with education and research. According to the Center for Climate Change Communication’s Maibach, 70% of Americans believe that global warming is happening.
“If you want to pick a single indicator of public opinion that really makes a difference, its worry. People who aren’t worried about it are not going to pay attention to it and are not going to do anything about it,” Maibach said. “People who are worried about it at the very least are going to pay attention to it… and that interest has increased 16 percentage points within the last five years.”
After research, Goldrick pitched his idea at the NBC news directors meeting, and that’s where they started to “get the ball rolling.”
“So we started the franchise in April, and all of the other NBC-owned stations now are either contemplating some sort of similar franchise, or they’ve already incorporated it into their web stories,” Goldrick said. “You have to be very smart about it… we really tried to make sure that we had a newsroom that was educated about the issue. About the science as well as about the local impacts.”
For example, the D.C. area has had “tons” of really heavy rainstorms over the last couple of years, said Goldrick. “Last year was the rainiest year ever in Washington D.C., and when you start to explain to people [that] in a warming climate, the atmosphere can hold more water, therefore, you’re going to have more hard heavy rain storms, people go, ‘Oh, I get it now. It’s not just that it’s warmer, there are other pieces to climate change other than just the warmer weather.’”
The best way to do this, according to the Climate Central’s Placky, is to “make it simple and make it compelling.”
“We localize whenever possible, and that is a core organizational goal because this is this big global concept to people, but you feel things personally, you feel things locally, that’s how you connect with people,” Placky said. “So from our side, whenever possible, if we can take a big data set and break it down to your local market, we do that.”
Placky works to provide tools and usable graphics that show the impact of climate change on both a local and global scale. These resources stretch from tools and maps for meteorologists, as well as compelling infographics and data sets.
“We are constantly trying to break down big topics and find compelling ways to tell stories. I always say to our team, if you can’t write that down in a simple way to me, then we can’t expect our journalists to do that,” Placky said.
Interest in climate change stories are growing, and tackling them locally is the start to sharing and better understanding the true effect we are having on our environment.
“What we wanted to do was focus on stories in our market,” Goldrick said. “Climate change isn’t just about polar bears and penguins, it’s about your local economy, it’s about water systems, it’s about health in your community, it’s about infrastructure.”
According to Placky, some of the ways that Climate Central helps enhance environmental stories includes:
- Focus on the science
- Localize wherever possible
- Make it simple and compelling
- Operate on a news cycle
- Offer free to TV meteorologists and journalists.
“We try to stay on top of what’s going on, so that you can bring it into your storytelling in a much more simple way,” Placky said.