Severe weather events—from extreme flooding and record-breaking high temperatures— have become increasingly frequent and intense as a result of climate change. While there is no shortage of reporting when it comes to events of this sort, journalistic treatments tend to emphasize descriptions of the problem that induce heightened fear and alarm.
Despite its alarming nature, there is increasing evidence that U.S. citizens want to be informed about climate change. A 2020 University of Cincinnati report, produced in partnership with Yale University and George Mason University, found that the majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and want to see greater coverage of the topic in the media. However, there is strong evidence that Americans want to see climate change coverage that focuses not only on problems but also on solutions. As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe acknowledged in a 2019 New York Times article: “What motivates people to care and to act is an awareness of the genuine solutions.”
To meet the demand for more solutions-based reporting related to climate change, AVDF awarded a one-year $250,000 grant to Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) in 2021. SJN is a nonprofit organization that aims to catalyze a global shift in news reporting by focusing on actual and possible responses to society’s most challenging problems. Rather than simply describing the depth and challenge of the problem, SJN writers and editors focus on concrete solutions to address those challenges.
“SJN is increasing the number of solutions-oriented climate change stories that are published by empowering reporters and newsrooms to adopt a solution-focused approach. Consumers of this type of news are more likely to shift their own behaviors in ways that contribute to meaningful change. Solutions-based journalism helps news consumers to understand how their individual choices and actions can be part of the solution unlike traditional reporting which often leaves questions about the next steps unanswered,” said AVDF President and CEO Michael Murray.
As part of the AVDF grant, SJN recruited a cohort of 20 Climate Solutions Fellows to produce news pieces to share across the country. The fellows developed stories for several areas in the U.S., particularly for regions that have no local newspaper or receive inadequate news about climate change solutions. SJN also established key partnerships to expand the reach of solutions-based reporting about climate change. In a joint effort with the Public News Service (PNS), SJN broadly disseminated news pieces about climate change solutions. The news service provides free multi-platform content to more than 10,000 media outlets across the U.S.
The Climate Solutions Fellows developed a total of 65 stories that were distributed through the PNS network. Of the 65 reports produced, 25 were converted into audio content for radio broadcasts. SJN also created audio stories from 75 previously published articles for radio broadcasts. The climate solutions stories were broadcast on more than 800 PNS radio outlets, equal to a third of the PNS network. The converted climate change audio stories outperformed the PNS average with respect to both audience size and pickup. The climate stories were picked up by 69 outlets with an average audience size of 1.16 million listeners. Stories with the highest audience reach include L.A.’s Lessons on Climate Change, Balance Data with Hope, Denver’s E-Bike Rebates So Hot They’re Gone Within Minutes, Solar-Farming Combos Reducing Water Usage, and Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits Farmers, Coastal Communities.
“The Solutions Journalism Network is leading a global shift in how people understand and shape the world by focusing reporting on responses to problems and what we can learn from their successes and failures. This is especially critical for reporting on climate. Traditionally, climate journalism has focused on the apocalyptic and unsolvable. Our aim is to support journalism that is actionable and engaging, and importantly, equitably represents communities most affected by climate change,” said Fara Warner, SJN’s Director of Climate.