Credit: Li-An Lim on Unsplash

As the impact of the climate crisis is becoming more tangible, journalists will be playing a crucial role in explaining how it affects people and what steps we can take to lessen the negative effects.

To empower the next generation of climate reporters, the University of Falmouth teamed up with news innovation lab Fathm to host Reporting Earth, a one-day, online journalism summit held ahead of the Youth Summit of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26).

In the run-up to the event, the university offers a bursary to help develop new ways of reporting climate. Four successful entries, which can be submitted by individuals or teams, will get £1,500 each, plus a chance to pitch the idea to an industry panel that includes Nick Clark, the environment editor of Al Jazeera and Tessa Kaday, the new head of product at News UK. Megan Darby, the editor of Climate Home News is judging the entries.

The entrants must be aged 18 - 32 and do not have to be professional journalists. Find out how to apply. caught up with Kate de Pury, course leader MA Journalism at the School of Communication, Falmouth University who oversees the initiative, to talk about the importance of climate reporting. The answers were sent via email and edited for clarity.

What makes for a good piece of climate reporting?

First of all, a human angle that brings the vast issues of the climate crisis to a relatable scale. Journalists need to show how the story fits in the wider context, not just big disasters and geopolitics but fashion, education or entertainment.

We cannot stress enough the importance of credible scientific sources with verified data and access to scientific expertise to fact-check reporting.

Finally, rise above doom and gloom by looking at solutions and not just the problems. Also, include younger and diverse voices from Global North and South – these are the people who face the brunt of climate change and who are active in searching for solutions.

Is story format important?

Journalists should employ multimedia where possible and use innovative social media, audio, data visualisation, interactivity (including gaming) and messaging channel formats – young audiences want climate reporting.

What does impartiality look like in climate reporting?

Impartiality is not a false equivalence to climate denial narratives, but rigorous adherence to science-based evidence. Journalists need to promote a balanced discussion of the issues, for example 'coal is the biggest carbon emitter but what happens to those who lose their jobs when coal power plants close?'

We also need to understand that perspectives on the climate crisis vary according to where the problem is being viewed: in the Global South, problems of survival are often seen as a greater imperative, in the immediate term, than tackling problems of climate change.

What advice would you give to young journalists starting in this field?

Climate is the lens through which many of today’s biggest stories – natural disasters, refugee movements, protests, energy geopolitics - should be viewed and reported. You will be in great demand as a climate reporter.

Learn the basic science, read and follow leading climate scientists like Richard Betts, Gail Whiteman or Mark Maslin, who are already engaged in communicating the science in a way laypeople can understand. Also, read newsletters from climate journalists not writing for mainstream outlets, like Emily Atkin’s HEATED. Listening to climate podcasts with scientists, not just journalists, will also give you an edge, for instance, journalist Alex Blumberg and scientist and policy nerd Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s "How to Save A Planet."

Stay across new data and academic research. This will give you context and maybe data to support a story you are reporting.

Follow local environmental activists and stories. These are the stories you can report and many will give you a wider angle on climate topics. At the same time, international climate activists also have stories you want to tell and they will provide global scale for a local story you may be reporting.

Think about developing a climate beat, like law, policy, fossil fuel lobby or sea levels, but be ready to address all climate themes.

Finally, follow climate journalism networks – Columbia’s Covering Climate Now, Climate Home News, Inside Climate News, Climate Tracker, Earth Journalism Network, and key environment editors and correspondents of mainstream outlets (make sure you look outside the UK, for example, Al Jazeera, DW, CNN).

What are your top tips for producing an engaging climate story?

Start with a local angle that scales up. This makes the story relatable for your audience.

Make sure your story has a diverse and engaging human face, presenting solutions where possible.

Be sure of the science. Use data or data visualisation and multimedia to convey complex concepts.

Use new and innovative news formats, like audio, video, graphics or animation to tell your story, designing it for mobile and beyond mainstream news audiences.

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