Green Templeton Lectures 2022 report
Climate change: journalism's greatest challenge

11 February 2022

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In the first lecture of the Green Templeton Lectures 2022, international media manager and journalist Wolfgang Blau addressed the urgent need for newsrooms to improve how they report on climate change. Oxford PharmaGenesis Associate Medical Writer, Elizabeth Coe, took the opportunity to attend the event and report back.

‘Climate change: journalism’s greatest challenge’ took place on Thursday 3 February and was the first in a series of three lectures convened by University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The series is exploring the relationship between science and the media – a relationship that’s come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blau, who recently completed a year-long visiting research fellowship with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, focused his lecture on the interplay between journalism and climate change.

Improving reporting

Wolfgang Blau is an advisor to the UN climate division, UNFCCC. He has formerly held roles as Global Chief Operating Officer of Condé Nast, Executive Director Digital Strategy of the Guardian and Editor-in-Chief of Germany’s ZEIT ONLINE.

In his lecture, Blau argued that news organizations are not giving climate change the attention it needs. He discussed how his research explores practical solutions to today’s challenges in the newsroom to make sure information about climate change is disseminated in a way that is accurate and accessible.

Blau identified operational, cultural and ethical areas where newsrooms can improve the reporting of climate change. Below are a few of the points that Blau covered within these areas.

Operational: aiding understanding

Blau stated how improving knowledge of climate change among journalists, such as through improved training and working more closely with scientists, allows more accurate and relevant reports to be told.

He stressed the importance of making sure that the knowledge level of the audience is also taken into account, so that the information can be tailored accordingly to ensure the audience understand it.

Cultural: emotional support

Blau observed that climate journalists often feel marginalized in their workrooms and report a need for more emotional support, which can make the career difficult to maintain.

He said that climate change reports are also often ‘sugar coated’, so the audience isn’t ‘scared’. However, the reports are still unlikely to reach large audiences owing to the perception of climate change as an uncomfortable and complex issue.

Ethical: making the headlines

According to Blau, climate change often does not meet the criteria to be selected for news updates or to be a lead story. The subject area is not considered to be appealing to audiences, because it’s viewed as a constant issue, and one that appears to be highly complex and slow moving.

However, key decisions are being made that affect everyone and should be put under scrutiny by journalists.

A journalist’s responsibility

Climate change is an important and urgent subject that impacts how we live our lives now and in the future. Consequently, questions need to be asked if, and when, climate change reports aren’t making it into the newsroom.

News resources are a major source of climate change knowledge for most members of the public, so it’s vital that journalists consider their responsibility for finding ways to reach their audiences in the most effective way to improve understanding of what climate change is, and what can be done to help.

Upcoming lectures in the series

Oxford PharmaGenesis are proud sponsors of the Green Templeton Lectures 2022. The two remaining lectures will see leading journalist Barkha Dutt exploring what COVID-19 has taught us about equality, freedom and journalism; and Oxford Martin School’s Professor of Population Biology, Sir Charles Godfray, considering the roles that scientists play in the media.

Oxford PharmaGenesis colleagues will attend both events. Look out for more lecture reports coming soon to our news pages.