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Published on

April 11, 2024


corporate communications, PR, sustainability, VIVID

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the face of perhaps the most urgent crisis the human race has ever witnessed, companies around the world have been hard at work producing climate solutions. The next step: education.

Won’t every environmental journalist be thrilled to report on these revolutionary solutions?

With a sneaking suspicion that this was not the case, in January 2024, I sought answers at an LSE panel from some of the UK’s most influential environmental journalists: Fiona Harvey of the Guardian, Roger Harrabin, formerly of the BBC, and Adam Vaughan of the Times, in addition to Dr. James Painter, research association at the Reuters Institute.

Vaughan summed up the sentiment of the panel:

“We’re not advocates. I might be an environmentalist in my personal life but that’s neither here nor there in terms of my reporting. [You can’t say] where are those constructive stories about war? Why are we treating this as a special category of journalism?”

It’s easy to see why people might make the mistake of believing this should be a special category of journalism. As the Paris Agreement’s 2050 deadline for net zero approaches at lightning speed, we’ve never faced such a significant global crisis. The messages emanating from solutions providers echo this sentiment in their ever-increasing urgency. “Last year, the human race used up the resources of 1.7 Earths. We must stem our consumption of energy faster. Government, businesses – change your ways now.”

But currently, the reporting on these world-saving technologies is often relegated to podcasts or newsletters that get a fraction of the readership of the front pages. It could be easy to feel dismayed at this reluctance to afford solutions significant coverage, and to believe that these journalists have forgotten the power of the press.

But take a step back and we are reminded of a simple fact that the entire panel agreed upon. All journalists have a cruel overlord: wordcount. They all acknowledged an appetite for positive stories to hit the headlines and compel people to action. The British public want ‘less doom and gloom’, according to Harvey, and ‘agency, not fatalism’, per Vaughan. However, as much as they want to include the answers, if the problem is more immediate, more tangible, more impactful on the lives of their readers – like floods or wildfires – it will take up the entire wordcount by itself. And currently, it does.

We in the comms industry need to remember that media is a business.

News websites are competitive. And as the growth of the Internet and dawn of AI divert the public’s attention every which way, producing articles that don’t attract readers just won’t cut it in ruthless newsrooms. Time-poor journalists need help from companies to distil and accurately represent the true human impact of these solutions, and make reporting them easier and more fruitful.

Journalists have already been doing the heavy lifting to make environmentalism matter to the general public. Harvey shared her journey from being side-lined as an early environmental journalist to owning the Guardian front pages today. Harrabin mentioned how he educated BBC senior management, with the blessing of Tony Hall, concluding that they had taken climate change seriously ever since. And Dr. Painter noted that coverage of the IPCC’s 2021 report included fewer viewpoints from climate deniers than ever. Yet, in their place, new misinformation around the cost of decarbonisation, covertly funded by the anti-green lobby and fossil fuel companies, threatens to lead potential readers astray.

As the facts of climate change have come to light, many environmental journalists have pushed to have more space to report them faithfully. Does this mean that more opportunities for solutions-makers to share their answers will automatically open up in time? Arguably not, especially as climate change gets worse. The fact remains that positive news must be happening on a newsworthy-enough scale for journalists to justify reporting on it.

So no, environmental journalists won’t cover solutions out of the kindness of their hearts. They won’t even publish them from a position of neutrality. But they might publish if you can offer them something genuinely newsworthy – something interesting and exciting enough that they’ll fight to be the one to write it, race to get it published, and be its biggest advocate on social media. We have good blueprints to do this: Dr. Painter noted that the solutions-focused climate stories with which readers engage the most are those in which the public mobilises – lobbies their MPs, changes their lifestyles, makes new habits and sticks to them.

The lesson for organisations is simple. Create the news.

For some, this will mean proving how their solution has mobilised the population on a big scale, or taking a second look at how developing your solutions is bolstering the economy. For others, it will mean quantifying the amount of energy a community has saved or carbon they’ve sequestered in a creative, visual way that actually means something to everyday readers. And for other, it’s highlighting how individual lives have changed for the better as a result of these solutions.

Succeeding at getting these solutions significant media coverage brings the public awareness, hope, and the drive to take action. So, while the urgency of the climate crisis doesn’t bring us a free pass to get into the media, it does bring us reason to inject pace, emotion, creativity, and visual thinking into our sustainability comms.

Level up your sustainability comms.

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