Journalists challenged to make climate change today’s news

By: Alexandria Iacobelli

Add another category to sex, religion and politics on the list of things not to talk about at the dinner table.

“Climate change is the fourth topic to avoid,” said Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at  George Mason University. “That’s a problem because the media should be telling the world more about it.”

Americans see climate change as a problem of the future, Maibach said recently at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Flint. Instead, it’s seen as a problem for plants and animals that may live past us, and not a problem for people today. It’s the reason why reporters have a hard time starting conversation around climate change.

Speakers at what is the largest annual gathering of environmental journalists on the planet discussed all things climate change, energy, food, water, environmental justice and more.

And the journalists discussed what they need to thrive in today’s world.

That included a lively discussion on what environmental journalists need to help shape the future of the beat.

“Covering the environment isn’t just for environmental journalists, it’s for all journalists,” said Roop Raj, news anchor for Fox 2 Detroit, about the changes storytellers need to make for the future. “It’s a changing world and our newsrooms have to follow the change.”

The world of information technology is ever-evolving and leaders in journalism need to keep digging for stories to effortlessly flow with the change we see on news platforms, Raj said.

But the conference wasn’t all about technology and new platforms. Speakers also noted the basics of writing. Short, bold words can easily tell a story quickly, said panelists at a session on how to make climate change relevant to local readers.

“You have the ability to capture a place that you have experienced, and you need to be very descriptive about what you are seeing for your readers to feel like they are experiencing that too,” said Meera Subramanian, freelance journalist and a former MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow. “You need to take readers there, so they know where they are going.”

The session discussed how climate reporting at the local level can be difficult. The climate is changing, but nobody wants to talk about it.

Climate change is happening here and now, the panelists said. Americans need to see it as affecting our lives today in everything we do. Reporters need to find the reporting tools to meet this challenge.

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