On my first day as Stuff’s climate change editor, I was given an unexpected task: host a climate change podcast. The podcast wasn’t meant for science experts (though we wanted them to like it, too). It had to be appealing to people who don’t necessarily care a lot about climate change in the first place.
Drawing on the expertise of our podcast director, Adam Dudding, we came up with a format where I’d interview New Zealand’s “climate-change changemakers” — including scientists and politicians, but also artists, lawyers, or anyone else with something intriguing to say.
In the seven episodes of the first season, we picked the brains of everyone from an oil company executive to a renowned fantasy author, from a lawyer specialising in climate-change litigation to a physicist who literally wrote the book on why it’s hard to give up air travel.
Attracting (and holding) attention
For decades, a big challenge facing journalists who cover climate change has been how to draw — and hold — the attention of readers and listeners. The slow, inexorable nature of this crisis (not to mention decades of industry lobbying that undermined confidence in the science) has often led to public indifference.
One Hot Minute addressed this head-on, with an easy-to-digest format that was — crucially — short.
Short and to the point
We partnered the One Hot Minute podcast with a series of 60-second videos. The video series played with the urgency of the climate crisis by keeping things super-snappy: Each guest was given just 60 seconds to deliver a scripted monologue to the camera, during which they could present a “big idea” or a personal anecdote relating to climate change. Then, in the associated 25-minute podcast episode, I dug deeper, inviting the guest to unpack their “one hot minute.”
As a science writer and climate change journalist, I’m deeply immersed in the topic, so it fell to director and producer Adam to represent a “normal” listener, ruling out any topics or phrases deemed too technical or dry. He also needed to train me to stop asking questions in the meandering style of a print journalist. On the airwaves, every question must be self-explanatory and short.
Each guest brought their own specialist knowledge to the problem: Z Energy’s CEO did his best to explain why his petrol company bothers making claims to being “carbon neutral.” Fantasy author Elizabeth Knox explained why climate policy failures are actually failures of imagination and why politicians might benefit from a fiction workshop. Physicist Nicola Gaston presented bold suggestions for using hydro to power a carbon-busting future. And sound recordist Mark Michel spun a remarkable yarn about his trip to Antarctica to capture the sounds of a melting continent. Along the way, we also delved into guests’ day-to-day lives. Who drives electric? Who times their showers? Who flies more than they should?
The video and podcast series (whose production was both constrained and delayed by the arrival of a pandemic mid-way through the interview process!) were well received.
Podcast downloads for the episode featuring Mark Michel, whose recordings of icebergs collapsing in the Ross Sea were used to make an extraordinary soundbed for the episode, were especially good. This was another useful reminder of the importance of approaching the climate-change conversation from all sorts of angles. It turns out Stuff readers were extremely curious to learn what climate change sounds like.
We were also pleased that by including cultural figures such as author Elizabeth Knox, who are seldom heard in media on the subject of climate, we were able to tap new and different audiences, including some of Knox’s substantial social media following.
The video and audio assets can be found at www.stuff.co.nz/onehotminute. The series is part of Stuff’s Forever Project, an enduring strand of climate change coverage that also includes the Forever Project quarterly magazine.