Climate change: the challenge to journalism

19 April 2015

Journalists still don’t care enough about climate change. This conclusion has been made by international experts on the last day of the Journalism Festival in Perugia. Participants of the panel discussion “Climate change: the challenge to journalism” discussed the measures that could make media and society feel more engaged with the problem.

Journalism is primary driven by personal stories and drama, but problem of global change is too complex and difficult to grasp, says James Painter, director of the journalism fellowship programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford: “People have a feeling that climate change is not happening to them right now. It is difficult to make it relevant. However, I know many very good examples, when journalists managed to do that”.

As James Painter has pointed out, catastrophe is not the best way to get people involved in the problem-solving: disasters immediately catch attention of the audience, but this effect doesn’t last long. Therefore, focusing on risks and opportunities might be a better way to make people care about the problem.

“Climate change is obviously a very difficult issue to cover. It is much more than typhoons and earthquakes that immediately catch media attention. This is an evoltion, – underlines Carlo Carraro, professor of environmental economics and econometrics at Ca’ Foscari university of Venice. – Journalists have problems with covering slow events. Consequences of climate change will be obviously visible in 20, 30, 40 years. So why should we care about it now? It is simple: because in 40 years will be too late”.

Even when scientists seem to be not certain about consequences of climate change, they might argue about details, but not about the global picture: there is no doubt that climate change is one of the biggest problems of our time. However, it is very difficult to transform this problem into news, says Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change: “Whenever I talk to the journalists, I can see the question in their eyes: what are the news? If it rains for three days, journalists call me and ask if it is a result of climate change. But we can’t blame media or society for not understanding the problem. We – the scientific community – should think how to solve this communication issue”.

There is no simple solution for the problem of communication between scientists and the society, says James Painter, but certain measures might help to improve the situation: “Today more big business companies talk about environmental issues. Obviously, there are still not enough of them, but we see that people tend to trust this messengers. Therefore, if climate experts want to reach the society, they should ask: what is the message and who is the messenger; do people understand the language of this message; and who are we doing it for?”

Adilya Zaripova