Critical Thinking: How Can the Media Improve Its Coverage of Climate Change?

Critical Thinking July 2019

How can the media improve its coverage of climate change?    


Michael Moore Jr., 30, senior, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Moore was editor of his campus newspaper, The Crow’s Nest in 2017 and secretary of his campus’ chapter of the Online News Association (ONA). He is also the president and founder of ONA’s podcast and audio journalism learning committee. After graduation, Moore will cover aging for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

 Climate change is the impossible challenge of my generation. How do you even begin to cover an impossible story?

The questions being posed by climate change are unlike anything humanity has ever seen—therefore, the approach to covering its story has to be unlike anything being done in journalism. The digital age of journalism has changed things: infotainment has been ushered in as a regular part of the news cycle as ratings, clicks and ad revenue dominates newsroom thinking while we continue to struggle with the notion of how to sustainably pay for quality reporting.

This is particularly important to recognize when talking about a story that people don’t want to hear, but need to hear: climate change.

As gatekeepers, it is our obligation to give readers, viewers and consumers the hard truths that they need regardless of ratings. Climate change has often been talked about as a “ratings killer”—if that’s the case, then we need to continue to figure out more ways to make these stories compelling while figuring out how to pay for them.

That means more nonprofit news organizations, more fellowships and more foundations. The future of our planet is at stake: it’s worth investing in.

But it’s not all about money. We, as reporters, need to do a better job at putting a human face on these stories. People look at it as humans versus nature, or as right versus left, but at the end of the day this is the story of humanity, the consequences of said humanity, and if nothing changes, the fate of humanity.

People relate to the human element in stories. Climate change is already affecting communities all over the globe and will only continue to do so as its impacts are amplified—let’s all strive to do a better job at telling those stories.


Meaghan Parker, 47, executive director, Society of Environmental Journalists, Washington, D.C.

Parker became the executive director in 2018 after serving six years as a member of SEJ’s board of directors. Previously, she was the senior writer/editor and partnerships director for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program. 

In May, the Guardian changed its style guide to instruct reporters to use “climate crisis” instead of climate change. But the problem with climate coverage isn’t the terminology—it’s the scarcity of it.

This spring’s deadly spate of tornadoes and floods are just the latest examples of extreme weather becoming more frequent and more severe. But few stories connect these disasters to our changing climate. A Media Matters study of U.S. major network television coverage identified only one story—out of 127—that linked 2018’s heat wave to climate change; and found zero television stories on climate change during the previous year’s hurricane season.

For a change to occur, more reporters must become familiar with basic climate science, and more editors and producers must understand that climate change is not just an environment story. But industry trends continue to push struggling local newspapers to lay off “luxury” beats like environment, TV news to ignore science coverage, and veteran environmental journalists to decamp to niche outlets.

Without climate science education for the reporters and their editorial gatekeepers, local news outlets may continue to fail to cover the crisis in their own backyards.

Training opportunities—like the covering climate change workshop at the upcoming Society of Environmental Journalists’ conference—bring together scientists and reporters to not only learn about climate science, but how to explain it so that the public can understand, and how to pitch it so that editors will buy it.

Other successful approaches include independent online news sites, like Southerly magazine, that delve into the local impacts of environmental change. Science-journalist partnerships like Climate Central’s work with local meteorologists bring climate change into living rooms from Albany to Phoenix. And personal stories—like the Groundtruth Project’s short films on Somalia and the Philippines—document the human toll of climate change.

Science-based, objective local journalism is our best weapon in the climate crisis. In today’s polarized politics, ceding public science education to advocacy campaigns threatens to undermine the legitimacy of climate science and will simply preach to the converted. The best way to improve climate coverage is to increase it in the first place.

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6 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: How Can the Media Improve Its Coverage of Climate Change?

  • July 12, 2019 at 6:35 am

    Their lies the problem with the topic of climate change.
    The opening statement says” humanity has never seen”
    Have you ever heard of the ice age ?
    In grade school we were taught that the various landscapes were due to glaciers scrapping parts of the earth.
    I guess today we are now taught that it is the automobile which is the reason for the variance of a degree.
    Lets not take advantage of the luxury of dissecting a portion of the earth and claiming this template as the holy grail for all of earth.

    • August 8, 2019 at 8:39 pm

      Thank you for demonstrating what Jonathan Swift meant by “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”

  • July 12, 2019 at 10:28 am

    An aspect of critical thinking is to be aware of bias. This piece is loaded with preconception. For example climate change aka, global warming, is a fact.

    Another part of critical thinking is to not assume the cause of the effect. Less environmental reporting may not be about less money, and more about the crumbling evidence regarding global warming.

    Conformation bias, sunk cost fallacy, group think, and who knows how many aspects of critical thinking rules climate change enthusiast break.

    Give me actual facts, then let’s talk

  • July 12, 2019 at 11:27 am

    here’s the root of your difficulty: climate change is, and has been, a natural occurrence, and until (and unless) you realize it, you will be in trouble …
    basic education should have taught you about solar cycles, about changes in the earth’s axial tilt, etc. … if you skipped school that day, your problem … if the school you attended omitted these natural facts from its curriculum, society has a problem larger than itself …
    and i won’t even debate the major issue, namely, that the statistics used by the climate change panic mongers have become proof that there are lies, there are damned lies, and then, on top of it all, there are statistics …
    so, to answer your question about coverage: do your homework first …

    • September 25, 2019 at 7:30 am

      The sun has not warmed since 1970 and so cannot be driving global warming. In fact, over recent decades, the sun has been slightly cooling & is irrelevant to recent global warming. The sun has actually just had the deepest solar minimum in 100 years.

  • August 8, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    I love root cause analysis. Even better “…statistics used by the climate change panic mongers have become proof….” Nice.

    I wonder why I think you start with the position you want to assert and then, like Shaw’s Zoltan Karpathy, use the statistical equivalent of speech “more to blackmail and swindle than teach.”

    “Actual facts?” As opposed to “facts?” Nice.


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