Deutsche Welle found new ways to present climate journalism to new audience

By Carmen Meyer

DW/Deutsche Welle

Berlin, Germany


At Deutsche Welle (DW), an international media organisation based in Germany, we sought to create a compelling video series on environmental and sustainability issues to inspire young people in Southeast Asia.

We assumed that following the outrage of Generation Greta and the grassroots spirit of her global climate movement would be an obvious place to start. Or was it?

Following this hypothesis seemed obvious to everyone on our team, as we all were accustomed to taking a typical Berlin perspective on environmental issues. However, upon closer examination of our target group, we found out that we might be wrong. Instead, we heard responses such as, “Who is that anyway, Greta Thunberg?” and “There are so many issues that are so much more worrying for me than sustainability.”

To appeal to a Southeast Asian audience, Deutsche Welle had to take a completely different approach to climate change issues.
To appeal to a Southeast Asian audience, Deutsche Welle had to take a completely different approach to climate change issues.

We kept hearing such exact statements in our empathy-driven interviews with users from Jakarta, Bangkok, or Hanoi, which we conducted in the course of our format development phase. We also paid keen attention to design thinking as well as working closely with our market and audience insights department.

What we discovered was that the 18- to 30-year-olds there could hardly relate to the rage of the Western Fridays for Future generation when it came to climate issues. In fact, they showed little interest in environmental topics in general. Young people in Southeast Asia cared primarily about issues like the health of their children and their families. We came to understand that this was our way in: the health concerns were caused by environmental issues such as smog in megacities or microplastics making their way into our food chain.

It became clear to us that we’d have to use a backdoor to make environmental stories appealing to our target group. And there was one more takeaway from our user interviews: Instead of hearing more negative news, the target group wanted to receive concrete tips and solutions for the challenges they face every day.

Walking in someone else’s shoes

We had to prioritise looking at the living situations of our audience. Emphasising and understanding the needs of our target group and their lives as well as their social problems on the ground enabled us to get on the right track.

This helped us pick up right where our target group is, resulting in a constructive video series on environmental health issues. Together with our design team, we developed pollution monster animations to tell entertaining stories, meeting our target group’s expectation to escape their everyday lives — without any doomsday narrative or wagging fingers.

The result was the series was called Open Your Eyes to the Unseen and it was in a format that had little to do with our original concept. And the feedback we received from users after the video series was published in Asia proved we were right. With a format that creatively and constructively narrates environmental issues, we were able to reach out to people who otherwise pay little attention to the climate movement and the likes of Greta Thunberg, while being heavily affected by climate change.

Meet the team

The five-part streaming series was developed by Ben Fajzullin (author of the pilot episode “Mommy, I can’t breathe”), Joanna Gottschalk and Grit Hofmann (editorial leads), Alina Fichter (head of digital format development), and Carmen Meyer (format developer). The series was published on 24 distribution partner platforms in 10 Asian countries as well as on DW’s social media platforms.

About Carmen Meyer

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