Jill Hopke

Environmental Communication. Social Movements. Mobile Media.

Tag: research (page 1 of 5)

Expertise of Climate Change Communication Researchers Needed in #CoveringClimateNow

On Tuesday the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation jointly announced a new project, “Covering Climate Change: A New Playbook for a 1.5-Degree World,” with the goal of improving climate change reporting among U.S. media with a one-day town hall in New York City at the Columbia Journalism School.

In the interest of not contributing carbon-emissions by traveling from Chicago to New York, I followed along via the event’s live-stream, an archive of which is available on YouTube. In an important element of user-generated content, London-based freelance environmental journalist Juan Mayorga provided Spanish translation via Twitter.

On Tuesday the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation jointly announced a new project, “Covering Climate Change: A New Playbook for a 1.5-Degree World,” with the goal of improving climate change reporting among U.S. media with a one-day town hall in New York City at the Columbia Journalism School.

One theme of the day was that climate change is the context for all sorts of stories, not just ones about climate science. “Climate is not a story,” said panelist and author Naomi Klein. “It is the backdrop for all of our other stories. It is life.”

Familiar Critiques, Heightened Urgency

The #CoveringClimateNow project is well-timed and needed. It’s long overdue, for that matter. The IPCC’s special report on 1.5 °C warming in the fall, along with the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment, again sounded the alarm on climate change. Media coverage of climate change in relation to extreme weather events in 2018, from heat waves to wildfires, or the lack thereof, elicited public discussion, especially commentary that media outlets weren’t doing enough to draw connections to climate change. NPR Public Editor Elizabeth Jensen opined on factors that continue to make climate change a challenge for journalists to cover, particularly for non-climate beat reporters covering breaking news. My research on the extent to which media coverage of extreme weather events discusses climate issues shows that for both heat waves and wildfires, climate change issue attention increased significantly from summer 2013 to 2018.

A word cloud of tweets for the hashtag #coveringclimatenow from April 30, 2019.

These critiques aren’t new. Back in 2012, journalist turned climate activist Wen Stephenson called onjournalist colleagues to “cover the climate crisis as a crisis — one in which countless millions, even billions, of lives are at stake.”

The criticisms have continued. To name one such example, Guardian US environment reporter Emily Holden wrote “even as there are signs that airtime for climate is beginning to increase, questions remain about the depth and quality of the coverage.” Importantly, in her article Holden provides concrete, evidence-based suggestions, for ways in which media can improve, such as “cover climate as a local news story.” Importantly, Holden also interviewed climate change communication experts, including Edward Maibach from George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Missing the Contributions of Climate Communication Scholars

This highlights a major omission in the #CoveringClimateNow conversation so far. Climate change communication researchers, along with journalism schools as training grounds for future reporters and editors, need to be an integral part of the conversation. Our voices, as scholars (largely) weren’t at Tuesday’s town hall. It’s not only a matter of increasing media attention to climate change. It’s also about the need to improve the quality of climate journalism, and to do so at general interest publications, television news and on social media.

Climate change communication as a field can make a major contribution. Science communication scholarship shows that it’s not enough to provide more information, as in more news coverage. A key problem for climate change communication, including through media coverage, is according to Susanne Moser, that individuals need to care and be motivated to take action on climate change. Any project to improve climate journalism needs to be rooted in the understanding that Individuals come to their beliefs about science, including climate change, based on a mix of pre-held values, social networks and political ideology.

It’s essential that this effort to improve climate reporting be evidence-based. To name but one example, Graham Dixon and colleagues at the Ohio State University published a study in Environmental Communication in which they found “backfiring effects” among climate change skeptics when exposed to media coverage emphasizing the role of climate change in extreme weather events.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication (of which I’m a contributor), edited by Matthew Nisbet of Northeastern University, should be the go-to resource for journalists looking for the state of the field. It includes multiple articles addressing journalism, as well as television and cable news, social media and TV meteorologists as climate change educators.

Telling Compelling Climate Change Stories

On a morning panel, New York Times’ international climate reporter Somini Sengupta provided advice on climate reporting: tell stories that are rich, compelling and surprising. Make it relatable. “We try to make personal connections. We try to move people,” said Sengupta at the panel.

She further commented on the importance of diversity in climate reporting. “It’s our job as reporters to not rely on a small sliver of humanity,” said Sengupta. “Do not rely on white male experts, because the story will be incomplete.”

The challenges the next generation of environmental and climate journalists face were summed up by an audience question from a graduating student journalist, “Is it only journalists of a certain stature that are allowed to speak plainly about climate change or can journalists like me just entering the job market also do that?”

This is a challenge we need to take up as educators tasked with training the next generation of environmental and climate journalists, as well as those entering the profession, regardless of their area of specialization. On Twitter, I shared a thread of resources that can help, including Climate OutreachClimate Central and the Climate Advocacy Lab.  

A Call for Dialogue with Journalists

Crisis terminology was peppered throughout the #CoveringClimateNow conversation with mentions of “climate emergency” and “climate crisis.” We run the risk of becoming numb to yet another crisis. What climate change communication researchers and educators can, and should, do is contribute insights from our research to this ongoing dialogue. We share a goal with concerned journalists and editors: to improve the quality and depth of journalism about climate impacts and solutions, not just climate journalism as a siloed beat.

The structural constraints hindering better climate reporting aren’t going to diminish without unprecedented cooperation between stakeholders–journalists, editors, funders, concerned citizens, climate activists, political leaders willing to look beyond the next election cycle, students, and scholars, among others. In short, all of us together.

Environmental communication is a “crisis discipline.” We have an ethical obligation to share our expertise and research findings with journalists, such as those at the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation leading this new effort. Let’s hope they’ll listen and act upon best practices suggested by climate change communication research.

This blog post originally appeared on the International Environmental Communication Association’s (IECA) “One Planet Talking” blog.

Needed: Reporting on climate risks from polar vortex

I recently published a commentary in Yale Climate Connections. An excerpt is below. The full article is available here.

Americans watched toward the end of January as winter storm Jayden plunged much of the country (including parts of the Midwest where I live) to record-breaking low temperatures.

The extreme cold upended daily life, closed schools and universities, and disrupted mail service in 10 states and air travel around the country. Meanwhile, Australia experienced its hottest January on record.

News Analysis
With headlines like the Chicago Tribune’s of a “dangerous deep freeze,” media outlets provided live updates, survival tips, and covered impacts on the homeless, among other angles. Some took President Donald Trump to task over a tweet calling for global warming to “please come back fast.” Media later reported on deaths attributed to the extreme cold, vulnerabilities in public transit systems, and the potentially staggering economic price tag.

These are climate change stories.

Talk slides “The Moral Case for Sustainable Investing”

On Thursday I am giving a talk at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on social and sustainable investing.

The event is a conversation on the theme of “What is Sustainable and Socially Responsible Investing and Why Is It Important?” The event will take place Thursday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. in the UNCG Faculty Center. This conversation is hosted by the UNCG departments of Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Geography.

I will be joined by my colleague Luis Hestres (University of Texas at San Antonio). We will be talking about research we published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science . Our paper is available open access (for a limited time) here.

For more information on the event and the yearlong speaker series it kicks-off, visit here.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro talk on sustainable and socially responsible investing, Sept. 28

On Thursday, September 28 I will be giving a talk at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, joined by my colleague Luis Hestres (University of Texas at San Antonio), on sustainable and socially responsible investing.

The event is a conversation on the theme of “What is Sustainable and Socially Responsible Investing and Why Is It Important?” The event will take place Thursday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. in the UNCG Faculty Center. This conversation is hosted by the UNCG departments of Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Geography.

For more information on the event and the yearlong speaker series it kicks-off, visit here. Continue reading

Presenting on internet-mediated climate activism at AEJMC 2017

On August 10, 2017, I will be presenting on “Internet-Mediated Climate Advocacy: History, Convergence, and Future Outlook,” at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in Chicago. The research is authored with Luis Hestres (University of Texas at San Antonio).

Research summary:

The past two decades have transformed the ways political groups and individuals engage in collective action. Meanwhile, the climate change advocacy landscape, previously dominated by well-established environmental organizations, now accommodates new ones focused exclusively on this issue. This article examines the convergence of these trends through the examples of 350.org, the Climate Reality Project, and The Guardian’s “Keep It in The Ground” campaign. Implications for the future of Internet-mediated climate advocacy are discussed.

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