Journalism coverage of issues related to climate change can educate the public and shed light on one of the most important global policy issues of the 21st century, a group of international journalists and educators said during a workshop hosted by the Global Business Journalism Program.
The workshop, called “Taking the Heat – Using Journalism for Educational Engagement on China,” was organized by the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, the Pulitzer Center and the Global Business Journalism Program.
The event took place Oct. 14 as part of the 7th International McDonnell Symposium. The symposium, which examined “Global Challenges for Today’s Research Universities,” was held for the first time in China. It was the first workshop held at the new Tsinghua Future Media Lab, which will be used by GBJ for New Media classes.
A recently released United Nations report cautioned that world leaders had just 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change. Rather than debating the problem, the time has come to discuss solutions, Doug Harbrecht, a visiting professor at Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, told the audience of global scholars.
Professor Harbrecht described a trend toward “solutions journalism,” where media outlets around the world not only educate the public about the problems related to climate change but offer constructive solutions.
“They want to know how we can fix it,” he said. “They focus on what works, and why. It’s excellent journalism.”
Professor Rick Dunham, co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua, highlighted international best practices in climate coverage. He cited extensive reporting in the South China Morning Post, The New York Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation. All of these news organizations used multimedia storytelling to explain the depth of the climate change crisis and focused public attention on innovative attempts to reverse its damaging effects.
Professor Dunham also looked at diverse coverage of the issue on the Chinese mainland. These included an in-depth series of reports in People’s Daily focusing on the government response and a series of documentary videos produced by Shanghai-based The Paper illustrating the effects of climate change in different countries including Mongolia, Madagascar and Morocco and explaining how each nation is adapting to the changing environment. He also highlighted how China’s meteorological administration has produced a series of multimedia reports on climate change in 11 areas of China and has discussed possible solutions.
Speakers at the workshop focused on the need for creative storytelling to make stories of climate change compelling to news consumers. Sean Gallagher, a Beijing-based photographer and filmmaker affiliated with the Pulitzer Center and National Geographic, said that focusing on individuals helps to tell broader stories about climate change.
“Most people do not connect to a story unless you show the people affected by the issue,” he said. “The best way to do it is put a face to that issue.”
Anthony Kuhn, a reporter for U.S. National Public Radio, reported extensively on deforestation in the Asia Pacific region. Deforestation is the second-leading cause of global warming after the burning of fossil fuels, he noted. In his presentation, Kuhn recommended that journalists and educators “go to the scene and explain” what is going on and its impact on society. He explained how he had reported from Indonesia, explaining that the deforested trees eventually were used in everyday consumer products from cookies to lipstick.
“One of my jobs is to connect this to people’s lives,” he said.
Professor Hang Min, TSJC Associate Dean for International Affairs, welcomed the participants and underscored Tsinghua’s role as a global leader in education and journalism innovation.
I teach my multimedia students in the Global Business Journalism Program the importance of using graphics to tell stories. Timelines are one of the most effective narrative storytelling tools. This is one of the best timelines I’ve ever seen. It’s a history of Earth’s average temperature since the last Ice Age glaciation. Scroll to the end for a surprise. (Well, it’ll be a surprise to some of you.)
Thanks to xkcd for creating this ingenious timeline. It is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.