Climate change reporting: young readers

Can more positive climate change reporting boost young readers' interest?

Informal, visual and multimedia content can boost engagement

Getting climate change reporting right for young readers. Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina on unsplash
By Vera Novais

Human activity is threatening our climate at an unprecedented rate, yet the media is failing to engage young people in this crucial topic. Participants of the 4th European Conference for Science Journalists (ECSJ2017) will discuss solutions to this problem during a session on ‘Climate: facts, figures and future’.

According to Eurobarometer, 65% of young people see climate change as a very serious problem, but they don’t believe it affects them directly. They also think national governments, businesses and the European Union are the ones who should solve the problem.

“The younger audience should be made aware of the fact that it is especially their generation which will face the increasing risks of climate change and that they have to address their interests in political discussions,” says Peter Höppe, one of the speakers at the event. Höppe is head of the Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre for the Munich Re insurance company.

In order to reach young people, format and language matter, according to James Painter, the lead author of the book Something Old, Something New: Digital Media and the Coverage of Climate Change, published by the UK-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ). “Young people prefer more informal language, more visual content, and more content that can be shared,” he says.

At ECSJ2017, Painter will discuss the ways in which new digital publications are responding to this. To engage their audiences, HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post), for example, relies heavily on blog posts, Vice on personal narrative video, and BuzzFeed on listicles, quizzes, photo galleries and irreverent content.

Tone is also important. HuffPost emphasises positive narratives, Vice focuses on stories that readers find easy to identify with, and BuzzFeed relies on humour. These approaches are more engaging for young readerships than the negative tone adopted by much of the media.

Clarity matters too. “It is important that we stop thinking we are doing something for the sake of the environment,” explains Katherine Richardson, leader of the Sustainability Science Centre, and professor at the University of Copenhagen. “We need to deal with climate change for our own sakes,” she adds.

Richardson, who will also speak at ECSJ2017, believes journalists should adjust the way they present climate change to focus more on its effects on people. “Climate change is not a prediction issue. It is a risk issue,” she says.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts the Earth’s risk of warming by an average of 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century at 1.6%. Richardson concludes: “1.6% may not sound like much,” but if we were to accept a 1.6% chance of planes crashing, then we would be accepting 1,500 planes crashing every single day.” That’s a clear message.