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.
Every year, the Pulitzer Prizes celebrate some of the world’s best journalism. Just hours after the 2015 Pulitzer winners were announced, my Global Business Journalism Program was fortunate to play host to a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for photography. Larry C. Price, a University of Texas graduate who won the Pulitzer while working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Philadelphia Inquirer, dazzled my Multimedia Reporting and Data Journalism students with tales from his latest project, a multi-year investigation into the use of child labor in gold mining. His work — entitled “Tarnished” — was published in eBook form by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.
Here are ten tips I culled from Larry’s lectures and the subsequent Q-and-A period. They are not a definitive list of “ten top tips.” They are just a collection of tips that I hope will be useful as you attempt to improve your photographic skills.
1. Always remember that you’re a storyteller.
Whatever publishing platform you’re on, and whatever visual medium you’re using, journalism is always about one thing. “It’s all about the stories,” Larry says. “Stories are as old as language. They’re everywhere. And journalism tells them.”
2. Look for something new — or a new take on an old image.
“Find something that hasn’t been done,” Larry says. “Or find a different spin on it.”
He says colleagues have sometimes discouraged him from shooting certain images, saying, “it’s been done.”
“My response is, ‘I haven’t done it,'” he says. “If somebody’s told the story, tell it differently.”
His example: a recent trip to Paris and a photo shoot at the Eiffel Tower.
3. Get up early. Stay late.
Larry doesn’t use artificial lighting. As a result, he is looking for the best natural light available. “If you want your multimedia productions to look good, shoot them early in the morning or a few minutes before sunset,” he says.
That means long days of work and short nights of sleep.
4. Get close.
Every photographer has her or his own signature. For Larry, it’s close-ups. “I love tight facial portraits,” he said. “Force yourself to get close.”
Another favorite subject for his close-ups: “Hands and feet. That’s what it’s all about.”
5. Get personal.
To make a subject comfortable with you — especially if you are going to shove your camera into their face — is to develop a personal relationship with them. “I spend a lot of time getting rapport established before I take out a camera,” Larry says. “I develop that rapport so it doesn’t get uncomfortable to your subject.”
Of course, you can’t always do this when news is breaking, but it can help improve your image if you have a bit of time to prepare.
6. Keep shooting.
“When I’m in the field, it’s constant activity,” Larry says. “Digital allows you to shoot, review, delete a lot.” Don’t let your guard down when you’re on duty: You never know when the next great photo opportunity might come. “You can’t ever relax,” he says. “It’s a never-ending cycle of feeling guilty.”
On his most recent trip to Burkina Faso, Larry returned with 37,000 frames. “I always have a lot of failures,” he notes. “I shoot a lot of pictures.”
7. Minimize your vertical shots.
Horizontal photographs work best on digital platforms, whether that’s a mobile device or a computer. And if you’re taking video, make sure it’s horizontal. “Never shoot vertical video,” warns Larry. “It’s useless. Half your space is wasted.” He rarely takes vertical stills, except for portraits. But he likes the square format popularized by Instagram. “Square is a very good portrait format — a little more artsy,” he says.
8. Stay natural.
Great photographers don’t cheat with editing programs that alter reality. “I don’t do a lot of Photoshop with my pictures,” he said. “I don’t exaggerate the colors or anything.”
9. Take good notes.
You need to have the spelling of names, correct ages and the locations of cities or villages. Larry always uses two notebooks. He also records the GPS coordinates of everything.
10. One old-fashioned photo composition rule.
“Don’t ever put people in the middle of the frame,” he says.