Media companies take on climate change, false news during COVID

By Brie Logsdon

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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Media companies can make a difference in the world if they take an active role in shaping the future through their content and policies. They have the resources to provide factual, trustworthy information and, often, staff members who are more than willing to further the cause to do good in the world. 

These efforts are needed now more than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic prompts individuals and organisations to reconsider what impact climate change, pollution, and false news will have on the futures and what actions are needed to make change.

In the seventh of nine modules, Ringier Axel Springer Poland, Stuff, and AFP shared their efforts to address sustainability, climate change, and misinformation during rapid-fire, seven-minute Brainsnacks sessions at INMA’s Virtual World Congress on Friday. 

Ringier Axel Springer 

Publishers are in a unique position to encourage more sustainable practices and promote more environmentally friendly action. At Ringier, that has meant supporting the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals, which include affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, climate action, and zero poverty. 

Ringier Axel Springer supports the Untied Nations' 17 sustainable development goals through the world organisation's Act Now initiative.
Ringier Axel Springer supports the Untied Nations' 17 sustainable development goals through the world organisation's Act Now initiative.

“We are aware that we are a really big publisher, we are reaching millions of people every day, and we can influence what they are reading [and] what they are talking about,” said Olga Korolec, chief marketing officer and head of sustainability. 

Instead of just being watchdogs, Ringier chose to make their journalists guide dogs as well, offering solutions and direction to the public about how to achieve those sustainability goals. That thinking was reinforced by a major study in Poland, which found that 72% of Poles were aware that immediate action is needed to save the planet, but 50% didn’t know what action to take or where to start. 

“We knew we needed to mobilise people and tell them how they can protect the planet,” Korolec said.

Korolec’s team chose the Act Now initiative, which will let them address one topic each month over the next 10 months to teach people how to change their actions for the good of the environment. They include such topics as zero-waste fashion, meat-free meals, driving less, using reusable bags, and more. 

For each topic, Ringier provides people with guidelines for taking action, video explainers, quizzes, and other materials. It’s all designed to educate them, “but also tell them exactly what they can do and how they can participate,” Korolec said. “I personally believe 2020 can be the beginning of something good, a much more green, sustainable recovery. And I believe it is important both for us and for future generations.” 

Stuff 

As 2019 came to an end, Stuff knew public interest in climate change had never been higher. Building off previous work and fueled by the devastating Australian bushfires, it launched a business initiative addressing climate change and sustainability called The Forever Project in March. 

Stuff launched The Forever Project in March, overcoming obstacles COVID-19 presented.
Stuff launched The Forever Project in March, overcoming obstacles COVID-19 presented.

Though its launch was shaken by COVID-19, Patrick Crewdson, Stuff’s editor-in-chief said, it quickly became a case study on how to handle disruption and how to apply lessons on covering the pandemic to other topics. 

The Forever Project has three prongs: 

  • Rigorous but hopeful journalism about the climate crisis and sustainability.
  • Stuff’s efforts to reduce its own emissions.
  • Working with other organisations to tell their own stories in meaningful ways. 

COVID-19 created a few obstacles for The Forever Project. In coverage and marketing materials, there has been a careful balance between acknowledging the pressing issue of COVID-19 and the need for coverage while keeping a long-term focus on climate change. Another issue was timing: The launch date coincided with the first day of New Zealand’s lockdown. Stuff launched the project regardless, despite the domination of COVID-19 on the news agenda. 

The Web site has seen 3.5 million views since its launch, and readers have written in thanking the company for the coverage. Seven weeks in lockdown has put New Zealenders in the frame of mind to think about big changes or sacrifices to combat a crisis, Crewdson said. As the country moves forward, Stuff will cover how it responds across its industries and policies to address these potential changes, he added: “With The Forever Project, we have put Stuff’s permanent commitment on record.”

AFP 

The fact-checking format is becoming much more mainstream than it has been in the past few years thanks to the massive scale of misinformation and disinformation, Phil Chetwynd, global news director at AFP said. Yet the term “fact-checking” is misleading, he said. “It’s more about reporting on things that are false.” 

AFP has a network of 80 fact-checkers in 30 countries in part through its partnership with Facebook on the Third-Party Fact-Checking initiative.
AFP has a network of 80 fact-checkers in 30 countries in part through its partnership with Facebook on the Third-Party Fact-Checking initiative.

This happens through a combination of digital investigation and hands-on-the-ground work, and at the heart of all of this fact-checking and verification work is trust. In France, something like 25% of people have confidence in media. It is important to win readers back and demonstrate how quality journalism is done, Chetwynd said. 

In the last 3 years, AFP has built a network of about 80 specialist fact-checkers in 30 countries around the world. AFP has been expanding operations in part due to its partnership with Facebook on the Third-Party Fact-Checking initiative. AFP has complete editorial control in its fact-checking efforts, and, given Facebook’s scale, any misinformation investigated by AFP is usually being shared somewhere on the social media site anyway. If AFP rates a piece of content false, it crushes the visibility of it on Facebook. 

Covid-19 has led to a tsunami of false information across the Internet. AFP has done more than 800 fact-checks since the beginning of March, most falling into three categories: misleading advice, rumours and hoaxes, and images out of context. The two biggest themes of consistent misinformation have been about Bill Gates and 5G.

The Congress continues on Tuesday with the eighth of nine modules, “Business Model Innovation and Creating New Value.” Register here for individual sessions or the entire Congress (the latter includes access to this and previous sessions).

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