Even when climate does make the news, it is often of low caliber. Boykoff and Paddy Coulter, another researcher at the University of Oxford, individually presented data showing that, around the world, political speeches, weather events, and stories about “charismatic megafauna” tend to drive coverage. As a result, there is a dearth of more “discursive” articles about how the world could mount a coordinated effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change. (Reporters must also contend with challenges related to the journalism industry itself. In an interview between sessions, Revkin lamented the fact that his popular Dot Earth blog was recently dark due to ten days of unpaid leave that all Times employees must take this year.)
Despite myriad obstacles to incisive reporting, however, there are reasons to be optimistic. “The story shouldn’t be beyond anybody trained in the traditional skills of a journalist,” said BBC environment correspondent Richard Black. And the London conference featured numerous presentations by groups providing such training in preparation for the Copenhagen climate summit.
Perhaps the most interesting and effective of these efforts is the Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP). The group brought thirty-seven journalists from developing nations to the climate summits in Bali in 2007 and Poznan in 2008, who produced a total of over 1,000 stories for their respective news outlets. The CCMP is gearing up to send forty more to Copenhagen in December. At each summit, the group (a partnership of Internews, Panos, and the International Institute for Environment and Development) provides a wide variety of workshops, clinics, and resources to help its fellows identify sources, understand the underlying science and policy, and otherwise navigate the meetings.
This year, Internews has also launched the Earth Journalism Awards, which will send an additional fourteen reporters to Copenhagen. It is open to both journalists from developed and developing nations alike, who are invited to summit their work for seven regional and seven thematic (energy, forests, adaptation, etc.) awards. The deadline is September 7, 2009. So far, over 400 journalists have registered, said James Fahn, the executive director of Internews’s Earth Journalism Network.
The goal of both the CCMP and Earth Journalism Awards is to close the “information gap” in developing countries, which have been greatly underrepresented (only eleven percent of the journalists at the Bali summit were from the developing world, according to Panos’s Rob Harbinson) at the United Nations climate summits and unfortunately reliant upon wire services for coverage. The fellowships are a way for reporters to both learn about “anything and everything related to climate change” and be watchdogs over their respective countries’ representatives.
The Poznan meeting was the first time that Bhutan had a reporter at a summit, according to Fahn. That’s important because “Negotiators are freer to do something other than what they say they’re doing if they know there are no journalists there to report on them,” he said.
Another interesting media development organization is the Network of Climate Journalists of the Greater Horn of Africa. The group provides a variety of resources, and hosts regional forums and events in an effort to improve the quantity, quality, and dissemination of climate information. Also worth mentioning here, though it does not focus exclusively on climate coverage, is the World Federation of Science Journalists’ SjCOOP mentoring program, which pairs “aspiring” journalists in Africa and the Middle East with more experienced colleagues from developed and developing nations alike.
Overall, the various climate conversations at the World Conference of Science Journalists imparted mixed feelings of both hope and despair, which should be very familiar to anyone working in the industry today. On the downside, it’s doubtful that readers and audience members anywhere will see as much coverage as they should in the run-up to the meeting. On the other hand, the event itself may be a quite a circus, indeed. Whatever the case, we hope that outlets everywhere think strategically about how best to serve their readers and audiences.