Media companies continue to evolve their climate coverage

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Climate change affects everyone and is one of the most important stories of our time. During this week’s Webinar, The business of climate change reporting, Peter Bale, INMA’s Newsroom Initiative lead, led a discussion about what it means for news media companies.

“Every beat in our newsroom is affected by this, every publisher is affected by this — including their own cost of doing business,” Bale said. He brought together three professionals who all are tackling climate change issues in different ways — not only from a coverage perspective but from a business perspective.

Bale was joined in the discussion by David Callaway, founder of Callaway Climate Insights; Diego Arguedas Ortiz, network manager at the Reuters Institute’s Oxford Climate Journalism Network; and Jillian Green, managing editor at The Daily Maverick in South Africa.

Covering climate change comes with a certain number of challenges, not the least of which is providing information without overwhelming audiences.

“How do we make the story compelling to users without frightening them to death?” Bale asked. “How do we empower them to be useful and, to some extent, how do we make money out of this story?”

INMA's Peter Bale, lower left, was joined by David Callaway, Jillian Green, and Diego Arguedas Ortiz to discuss the business of covering climate change.
INMA's Peter Bale, lower left, was joined by David Callaway, Jillian Green, and Diego Arguedas Ortiz to discuss the business of covering climate change.

The finances of climate change

Callaway, a veteran of companies including Market Watch, TheStreet, and USA Today, launched Callaway Climate Insights on Substack three years ago to provide news, analysis, and original perspectives around the topic of climate change.

“It’s not a beat, it’s a theme,” he said. And that theme transcends all beats: science, weather, business, politics, and even sports. Different companies have focused on various aspects of climate change, but Callaway chose to zero in on climate finance, as his background in business coverage gave him a unique insight into how businesses and industries are adapting to it.

The subscription platform allows him to provide targeted distribution and focus specifically on what readers want.

“They don’t want to be preached at,” he said. “They’re looking for ideas and they’re looking for new ways to look at climate change and interpret what is coming down the pike.”

That means delivering information about solutions, who is providing them, and what opportunities exist, Callaway said. It provides potential investors with critical information on emerging solutions.

“As we know, there’s many types of solutions,” he said. “And in each of those areas, there are hundreds of companies.”

The challenge of how to provide enough electricity to survive a transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy is one of the biggest concerns facing the planet. The many companies that are taking on that challenge will provide one of the great opportunities of all time, Calloway said: “Not just to help the world adapt to climate change, but to transform our economies into renewable, sustainable economies.”

Changing climate coverage

When Ortiz first began covering climate change, it was a specific beat, but that has changed.

“I feel like the industry as a whole has grown to the point that you don’t only become a science journalist or a climate journalist. It’s because you cover other beats you realise you have to bring in someone with more climate expertise to your beat.”

The Oxford Climate Journalism Network has a network of reporters from around the world that meet frequently for seminars and workshops and to discuss either what needs to be happening, what frustrations they have, or to get new ideas on coverage. It also looks at how to safeguard the mental health of climate change reporters and what big topics it should draw into its coverage — such as health, finance, or politics.  

“At the essence of this is that every one of these reporters wants to change the way to cover climate change, and we’ve had so many people who want to join,” Ortiz said.

For the coming year, the network received more than 800 applications; only 100 spots are available. About 30%-40% are environmental or science reporters, but the rest are not; applicants include photojournalists, heads of news departments, copy editors and more.

“The scale interest in the industry is breathtaking,” he said. “But it shows some sort of failure by the media ecosystem as a whole to support this transition away from a beat to a whole theme. I would expect to see more national orgs of journalism have spaces where people can talk about this and can train.”

Ortiz is seeing some national networks forming in Europe and has seen environmental networks being created in other areas, but this is still in its infancy: “I think when we have that happening every year, then we can see a bigger shift because people are wanting this expertise, but they are lacking space to do so.”

Ortiz sees a golden opportunity for news media companies to gain financial support from companies that are committed to sustainable initiatives: “There’s so much interest in this,” he said. “As you have more pledges, there is more interest from companies to put forward that they’re actually as green as they say.”

Leveraging the power of a non-profit

At The Daily Maverick, Green heads an initiative called Our Burning Planet, a title which Bale pointed out “is guaranteed to terrify people.” She explained it is a section within the newspaper launched in response to the “real-world impacts it’s having on our lives and the lives of people around the globe.” It focuses its coverage on the climate crisis and the difference between good governance and bad governance.

“This is the biggest story of our time,” she said. “It’s the thing that is going to impact and permeate all beats in the newsroom, but we need expertise to guide that conversation. And the only way to get that expertise is to specialise.”  

Our Burning Planet has a group of specialists that can help reporters across different beats understand and incorporate climate change into their coverage. Green acknowledged good journalism like that requires money, however: “Otherwise we can do cheap and nasty, but we have or real-world impact in what we’re doing. And in every newsroom, we have competing editorial priorities.”

When setting up its climate crisis unit, leadership had to look at how to provide it with resources without taking away from other important reporting work it is doing. Before seeking funding, Green said their team sought help from a local university to determine what key areas of reporting it should focus on. That helped focus the editorial mission and create a cohort of journalists to do that.

To alleviate the funding challenges, it created Our Burning Planet as part of The Daily Maverick’s non-profit organisation and then approached the banking institution ABSA to procure grant funding.

“They recognised the need for this kind of reporting,” she said. They agreed to a grant of 2 million rand (US$112,439) for one year of reporting. The Daily Maverick created a team of 10 reporters and, within the first year, had grown its unique visitors to about 370,000 per month. Now, it also has a newsletter that goes out to 25,000 subscribers weekly.

This secured funding has allowed it to focus its climate crisis reporting in a way it could not have done with a traditional approach.

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About Paula Felps

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