The challenges facing local news organizations are well documented, from revenue disruption and staffing cuts to debunking misinformation, all exacerbated by the pandemic. Those challenges can be even greater when it comes to reporting on climate change because of the need to get the science right, and the constant pull of breaking news.
One way to overcome these resource constraints is to forge partnerships with aligned organizations that can help support and supplement the work of local reporters. That’s why the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative partnered with half a dozen science and journalism organizations to support the 23 local newsrooms on their local climate storytelling.
Whether it’s connecting with scientists or working with data visualization gurus, tapping the expertise of these organizations provides time-challenged newsrooms with access to tools and training to report deeply on both the climate challenges and solutions to help local audiences take the meaningful action in their community; and develop and implement strategies to make climate coverage sustainable.
Across the country, the collaborative’s newsrooms regularly leverage these resources to bolster their reporting.
One LMA partner, the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, is the nation’s first research center devoted entirely to improving public communication about climate change. When the collaborative first launched, experts from the center briefed member newsrooms on the current state of the American public’s interest in, and acceptance of, climate change.
With a whopping 72% of people across the country accepting climate science, according to the latest survey in 2020, newsrooms explored county-level data to gain valuable insight about their audiences — from how they felt about various climate policies to whether they agreed their community was already experiencing climate impacts.
In addition to better understanding what stories audiences are craving, granular, community-level data has also proven valuable in breaking news situations.
When a major flooding event happened in San Antonio, Texas, KSAT’s team turned to localized data resources from Climate Central’s hyperlocal data visualizations to help put the flooding into context for viewers. The story explained how climate change means that flooding is a reflection of the growing frequency of heavy rain events.
The Paper in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also turned to Climate Central’s graphics to illustrate how summer temperatures are rising in the area in their story about how the city needs “street scientists” to map urban hot spots.
And after Climate Central released a report about urban “heat islands” and extreme temperature spikes in cities, The Sacramento Bee used this information to explain to readers why Sacramento ranks among the worst cities for “heat island” neighborhoods.
“Climate change is the biggest story of our time,” said Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central chief meteorologist and director of its Climate Matters program. “The LMA Covering Climate Collaborative is helping deepen and expand climate storytelling in local communities across America, helping people understand how the changing climate is affecting them personally and what they can do about it — and that is why Climate Central so strongly supports this work.”
Major reports can be tricky to parse through quickly. So, when the major U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released in August, LMA partner SciLine was able to provide timely expertise to newsrooms.
“SciLine quickly gathered video comments from several of the report’s U.S. authors and made them immediately available to Collaborative reporters,” said Rick Weiss, director of SciLine. “We’ve really appreciated the enthusiasm expressed by LMA collaborating editors and journalists as we’ve offered up knowledgeable, articulate scientists for interviews and briefings.”
As part of its reporting, KSAT, along with other newsrooms in the collaborative such as ABC15 in Phoenix, used resources from science partners SciLine and Climate Central — both of which released timely resources including expert interviews and data visualizations.
As KSAT meteorologist Sarah Spivey said at the time about covering the IPCC report: “Personally, I feel more empowered to talk about climate change. The resources provided by Climate Central and the interviews of IPCC scientists through SciLine were incredibly helpful.”
Reporting on the problem, however, isn’t enough. Exploring solutions is also a vital part of climate storytelling. That’s why LMA also partnered with Solutions Journalism Network to help newsrooms report on responses to climate change.
As Keith Hammond, president of SJN, told the collaborative this summer, “We’re talking about a shift from a pure watchdog role to a guide dog. … In addition to uncovering what’s wrong, we also uncover potential responses, ways we can act to change what’s wrong. … When we do that, we shift the way people engage with news and we heighten accountability. When we introduce solutions, we are proving that problems can be solved.”
Looking ahead, as world leaders gather at the major COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November, SciLine has recruited a lead U.S. science and technology negotiator for the Paris Climate Agreement to brief LMA Climate Collaborative newsrooms on the upcoming international conference, and to talk about how to “localize” the news that will come out of that pivotal gathering.
“Climate change may be a global issue but it affects people locally, which means responsibility for covering it falls squarely on local reporters,” Weiss said. “That’s a big responsibility.”
LMA’s Covering Climate Collaborative includes 23 local newsrooms serving audiences in five regions of the country in print, on broadcast, digital and audio. The collaborative is supported by more than half-a-dozen science and journalism partners. The mission of the Covering Climate Collaborative is to localize and humanize the effects of climate change and to empower people to take meaningful climate action in their communities.