It’s been one year since Local Media Association launched the Covering Climate Collaborative on Earth Day 2021. With the effects of climate change touching people’s lives ever more directly, this anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, and what more can be done. Here are five takeaways and lessons from the first year of our local climate collaborative.
Local reporting is essential to informed responses to climate change
At the local level, climate change is not political, it’s personal. It’s in our local communities where we have direct experiences with climate change, whether it’s flooding or sea level rise in the East and Southeast, more intense tropical storms in the Gulf region, wildfires in the West, or drought in the Midwest and Southwest. The climate conversation is personal, locally.
We also trust our local news sources more, according to a recent Knight-Gallup study. With so much climate misinformation around, trusted messengers are essential. An article in The Atlantic earlier this year called out the uniquely influential role played by local TV meteorologists in communicating the facts about climate change, a trend I predicted in a 2019 Nieman Reports op-ed.
Climate “doomism” and inaction is also best combated locally. The easiest and most direct way to take action on climate is locally, in our own communities. Innovative responses typically start locally and scale.
For all these reasons, local reporting on climate change is essential to informed, meaningful responses. The initial 25 newsrooms in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative were selected for their commitment to climate reporting, and in the first year they collectively produced more than 250 original, local climate stories.
Report on solutions, not just climate doom
The second lesson we’ve learned is that, locally, people get it: We have a problem! Data from the latest Yale Climate Opinion Maps shows the majority of Americans are convinced climate change is happening, and a majority now say they are either alarmed or concerned.
Especially as communities experience direct impacts from climate change, local audiences recognize the problem. Hurricane Ida was the most devastating of climate-fueled disasters in 2021 that cost a mind-numbing $170 billion worldwide.
When a community gets directly hit by the damaging effects of climate change, it changes the conversation. Audiences want solutions, not just more problem-reporting. Research by SmithGeiger found a strong preference for stories that included solutions as well as reporting on the problem by news consumers.
Newsrooms in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative have partnered with Solutions Journalism Network to focus on also reporting community responses to climate change, including solutions as well as responses that have not worked. Investigate West produced an entire series focused on Decarbonizing Cascadia; ABC15-TV (Phoenix) reported on experimental efforts in Tempe, Arizona, to make bus stops cooler in that desert city; and KGO-TV (San Francisco) reported on efforts by local researchers to use plants to capture more carbon.
Collaboration has value far beyond story-sharing
The third lesson we’ve learned is that collaboration on a science-based subject like climate change offers benefits well beyond the obvious value of sharing and collaborating on reporting. We surveyed the 25 local newsrooms in our collaborative about what has been most valuable to them and a range of additional benefits emerged:
- Training in the science of climate change
- On-the-record access to leading experts
- Data and data visualizations to help tell climate stories effectively to their local audiences
Reporters might be reluctant to admit it, but climate change can be an intimidating topic to cover — no reporter wants to get the science wrong. This collaborative has offered participants training and support to check their work and get the science right.
Our collaborative regularly hosts sessions with national experts to better equip local newsrooms to tackle the most important aspects of the issue. Dr. Robert Bullard, often called the father of environmental justice, spoke to the Covering Climate Collaborative about the intersection between social justice issues and climate impacts, helping our newsrooms connect the dots between climate change and social justice in their local reporting. Dr. John Cook, a global leader on climate misinformation research, shared the most effective ways to report on, and combat, climate misinformation. Susan Hassol and Climate Communication have helped newsrooms with quick facts on key aspects of climate change. And Dr. Michael Mann spoke to reporters about detecting and exposing the techniques of those who have business interests in deflecting and delaying meaningful responses to climate change.
Power in partnerships
For a long time, news outlets operated competitively toward one another. In the first year of our climate collaborative, we’ve seen many examples of the power of partnerships, both between news organizations and across disciplines. Our climate newsrooms, paired with six leading national science partner organizations, are indeed better together.
SciLine has been an invaluable partner, nimbly and quickly connecting reporters on deadline with scientists who are not only category experts but also capable communicators.
Climate Central provides vetted research, data and data visualizations that our newsrooms are able to localize to their market. It also collaborates with local newsrooms on reporting, like this partnership with our member newsroom WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida titled Fewer fumes: What the switch to electric cars means for Jacksonville.
Solutions Journalism Network has provided training and resources to help newsrooms report on responses to climate change. Its Solutions Story Tracker is a potent repository of past solutions reporting that journalists can use to develop new stories.
Quick Facts from Climate Communication and SciLine provide climate journalists with just-in-time context for covering key aspects of climate change.
The team at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication has provided invaluable insight into accessing and understanding public opinion data on climate.
The Society of Environmental Journalists plays an essential role supporting, connecting and educating many of our collaborative members.
Technology partners have been key as well. In news collaboratives, story sharing is often considered a primary benefit, yet its potential may go unrealized because, in practice, the process is manual and time-consuming. Thanks to support from Google News Initiative, LMA received $200,000 in funding to partner with Distributed Media Lab to automate sharing of climate stories within each region. One year later, newsrooms in each of five regions have an embeddable collection of local, original climate content from partners, and the ability to sell sponsorships as well.
Local climate reporting needs more support and investment
Over the past three years, a number of national news organizations have made additional investments in climate coverage. Organizations including National Public Radio, CNN, The Washington Post and The Associated Press have all announced increases to their climate reporting teams. Indeed, the financial outlet at many national news outlets remains solid.
The local news landscape, however, looks quite different. The loss of local news sources in the past decade is well-documented. Yet, as we’ve noted, local is ground zero for climate effects, climate action and climate reporting. New and broader investment in local climate coverage is needed now. LMA intends to do its part. Our goals in the second year of the climate collaborative include:
- expand to support more local newsrooms
- add data journalists who can help local reporters find the stories in the numbers
- launch a newsletter and web presence to expand the reach and improve discovery of the good work already being done
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres in August called the latest IPCC climate report a “code red for humanity.” Now is the time for both urgency and agency. We welcome partners from the funding community, the science community, and the journalism community to join us in this effort.
We welcome additional newsrooms committed to climate reporting who’d like to join and contribute to our collaborative. And if you are a funding organization that would like to learn more about how you can support the important work of the climate collaborative, let’s talk. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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, The Current (Savannah, Ga.), and KSAT-TV San Antonio.
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), ASU/Cronkite News (Phoenix), The Paper (Albuquerque, N.M.) and NMPBS (N.M.).
The West includes The Sacramento Bee, KGO-TV San Francisco, Southern California Public Radio (Calif.), KGW-TV (Portland, Ore.), and Investigate West (Wash.).