New Mexico PBS environment reporter Laura Paskus wants to bring the voice of trusted meteorologists to her audience when it comes to discussing climate change.
“I’ve long wondered how the dialogue around climate change in the United States would be different if people heard regularly about the divergence of current conditions from historical conditions — and heard about it from their trusted local weather sources,” Paskus said.
So in August, she hosted a conversation with Arizona’s ABC15 meteorologist Jorge Torres in a segment about how local meteorologists tackle climate change.
“He’s one of the very few local, commercial TV meteorologists I know who talks openly and honestly about climate change, not just on social media, but also in the newsroom and during his segments,” Paskus said.
This successful collaboration is just one example of how newsrooms in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative have been working together to combine their strengths and widen the reach of their reporting to new audiences.
When Local Media Association launched the Covering Climate Collaborative on Earth Day 2021, the goal was to foster collaborative climate journalism. After just over six months of working together, 23 newsrooms across the country regularly leverage the power of the collective to bolster their storytelling.
Where they may have once seen competition, member outlets now recognize opportunities for stronger, bolder, more engaging climate coverage — from each featuring the others’ work, to co-reporting stories.
“By interviewing Jorge about his experiences, I hoped it would help our audience understand climate change communication and how it could be improved,” reflected Paskus, “and I hoped that by hearing Jorge’s advice, New Mexico’s broadcast meteorologists could feel empowered to act in ways to better serve their audience and the public at large.”
Collaboration has also come in the form of adapting and expanding story ideas. In September, InvestigateWest shared a story from its journalists — “Biochar ambassadors hope to save the methow” — which profiled a couple’s efforts to improve forest health and prevent wildfires. This, in turn, inspired the ABC7 KGO-TV team in the Bay Area to build on the reporting in its story highlighting how “West Coast researchers turn to biochar in fight against climate change.”
“Collaborating on the biochar project helped us expand the story into a regional Western report, with a much broader focus,” said KGO producer Tim Didion. “Beyond the initial tip, we clearly benefited from the excitement that InvestigateWest sparked inside the research community at UC Merced, and the growing environmental movement in Washington’s Methow Valley.”
Meanwhile, on the east coast, Jacksonville, Florida, radio and digital outlet WJCT-ADAPT has been collaborating locally and nationally on climate reporting.
In August, WJCT-ADAPT reporter Brendan Rivers teamed up with Grist and Floodlight News on a story about how “A Florida city wanted to move away from fossil fuels. The state made sure it couldn’t.”
In November, Rivers worked with climate newsroom partner WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, and LMA Climate Collaborative science partner Climate Central, on a story across digital, radio and TV platforms entitled “Fewer fumes: What the switch to electric vehicles means for Jacksonville”.
“I’ve worked with Climate Central several times now and the stories I’ve produced with them, and the recent story I did in collaboration with Floodlight News and Grist, are truly career highlights for me,” said Rivers. “I’m incredibly proud of those stories.”
Working across different platforms also meant a chance to combine a slew of powerful skill sets. For the WJCT-ADAPT team, it meant leveraging WJXT-TV’s broadcast skillset of quickly finding compelling local voices to make the story shine. For Danielle Uliano, WJXT meteorologist, the collaboration was also an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the subject. And from WJXT digital managing editor Steve Patrick’s perspective, taking the story to radio and digital broadened its reach and ability to engage new audiences.
The electric vehicle story has already attracted attention in the community, including from Jacksonville’s utility, JEA.
“I feel like collaborations like these are incredibly valuable to small newsrooms like ours. It gives us access to resources that we simply don’t have and it helps us reach people outside of our typical audience,” Rivers said.
To further boost story sharing and collaboration, LMA was recently awarded $200,000 in funding from the Google News Initiative to pilot and develop story-sharing technology for the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative. Working with Distributed Media Lab to expand the audience and reach of their original, local climate reporting, the technology will enable curated collections of regionally relevant climate stories to be easily incorporated in participating newsrooms’ websites. Automating the process of sharing stories should both free up newsroom resources for more and better reporting, and widen distribution of newsrooms’ original local climate coverage.
“A spirit of competition is hard-wired into most legacy newsrooms,” said Frank Mungeam, chief innovation officer at LMA and program lead for the climate collaborative. “What these newsrooms are finding is that, in a fractured media ecosystem, smart collaboration enables individual newsrooms to combine strengths and widen the reach of their original local reporting, which ultimately leads to greater impact.”
About Covering Climate Collaborative
The local news outlets in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative include publishers recognized as leaders in local climate reporting, three TV broadcast groups, multiple public radio stations, as well as digital-native climate websites. The partners are grouped into five regional hubs.
East/Southeast includes The News & Observer (N.C.), The Post & Courier (S.C.), The Miami Herald, WJCT Radio, WJXT-TV Jacksonville, WKMG-TV Orlando, and Florida International University’s South Florida Media Network (Fla.).
The Gulf Coast group includes The Times-Picayune and WWNO/WRKF Radio (La.), KPRC-TV Houston, and KSAT-TV San Antonio (Texas).
In the Great Lakes, WBEZ Chicago (Ill.), Great Lakes Echo at Michigan State University, Planet Detroit, and WDIV-TV (Mich.).
In the Southwest, participants include ABC15-TV Phoenix (A.Z.), The Paper (In the Southwest, participants include ABC15-TV (Phoenix, AZ), ASU/Cronkite News (Phoenix, AZ), The Paper (Albuquerque,NM) and NMPBS (N.M.).
The West includes The Sacramento Bee, KGO-TV San Francisco, Southern California Public Radio (Calif.), and Investigate West (Wash.).