News publishers find ways to make climate journalism sustainable, credible

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Climate change challenges newsrooms and publishers in multiple ways: 

  • How to pay for it.

  • How to serve readers without just terrifying them.

  • How to adapt to the fact that the subject covers virtually every beat in the newsroom — not just a dedicated climate desk or reporter.

Diego Arguedas Ortiz is at the epicenter of ways to spread best practices and answer some of those questions in his role as network manager of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, part of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Climate change stories from Oxford Climate Journalism Network.
Climate change stories from Oxford Climate Journalism Network.

Making the business case for climate journalism

I talked with Diego ahead of the November 9 Newsroom Initiative Webinar, The Business of Climate Change Reporting, where he and other experts will talk about their approaches to the reporting and the funding of climate change reporting — and some of the opportunities.

“You have to have a business case for climate change journalism as much as for journalism,” Diego said. “When I started doing climate change journalism in Costa Rica, I did a little bit here and there. Then we approached the biggest renewable energy company in Costa Rica and they gave us a year of advertising, which got us off the ground.”

Climate reporting long ago ceased to be a niche topic and now affects every beat and every publisher — whether it’s environmental impacts and disaster reporting, financial reporting on insurance and renewables, or the impact of the travel industry, for example. That’s where the INMA Webinar and, more significantly, the Oxford Climate Journalism Network come in — helping publishers and newsroom leaders think about how they adapt or find opportunities.

“I'm very much of the idea that you need to have a business case for journalism to work, especially in climate change,” Diego told me.

Advertisers and potential sponsors are there if the opportunity and the audience are right and the reporting of high quality.

“I think there is an appetite for this (from advertisers). All brands are trying to greenwash. Just try to work with brands you can trust somehow and make a business case for it,” he says.

Bloomberg Green is Bloomberg's climate change offering.
Bloomberg Green is Bloomberg's climate change offering.

Industry case studies

That is to some extent the approach taken by several publishers such as Bloomberg Green or the more specialised Bloomberg New Energy Finance — or on a smaller scale Callaway Climate Insights, whose founder Dave Callaway will also take part in the INMA Webinar. They are covering both the business costs of climate change but also opportunities that arise from adaptation and mitigation, both of which require enormous investments and innovation.

In New Zealand, publisher Stuff has a quarterly newsprint supplement, The Forever Project, which is sponsored by a national retail chain that also sustains regular climate reporting. A related Stuff project on extinctions This Is How It Ends won an INMA advertising award.

Half of the members of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network are climate change or environmental reporters, but the other half come from throughout the newsroom. Every reporting beat and every publisher has some angle to tackle on climate change, Diego says.

“There’s a very healthy mix of people who have various backgrounds … because you just can't cover climate change alone anymore,” he says.

That has spread to the advertising and marketing teams as more people in publishing realise there is money to be made in covering climate change and in attracting advertisers and sponsors with good stories to tell. These companies have a need to either to satisfy their environmental, social, or governance objectives or, more lastingly perhaps, to reach customers seeking solutions and services.

“They realise there is a business case for this and advertising and marketing, and they are interested in this,” Diego says. Bloomberg Green, he reckons, is a great example of where that mix of interests — between journalism and advertisers who see a market: “I think as soon as you put money behind journalism and you know how to do it, they manage to do fantastic journalism and it shows.”

The debate about the causes of climate change is fairly settled, yet protests continue over what can be done to address it and how fast.
The debate about the causes of climate change is fairly settled, yet protests continue over what can be done to address it and how fast.

The debate about the science of climate change is over in most markets, he argues, unless it is still promoted by legacy fossil fuel companies and their allies. In most places, climate change reporting has moved from activism or explanation of the science towards a more sophisticated discussion that brings in audiences and a new wave of potential advertisers and sponsors.

That also feeds into new forms of accountability journalism, where reporters can track how their governments are adhering to climate commitments.

Register here for the free INMA Webinar on The Business of Climate Change Reporting on November 9.

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Peter Bale

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