A wide variety of research with focus groups has consistently shown that climate change represents a huge challenge for effective communication and public engagement.
Among the many obstacles are that its effects are often remote in time and place, it can promote helplessness or alarm, it suffers from issue fatigue, and it is usually seen through the prism of people’s values and not through a cold assessment of climate science or risks.
The media find it difficult too. A recent study based on interviews with television producers and executives concluded that climate change was like the ‘kale smoothie’ of television schedules: a fashionable and even essential element of the diet, but essentially unappealing.
The media hardly mentioned climate change during the presidential campaign in the USA. In the six weeks prior to the Brexit referendum in the UK, only 0.5 percent of traditional newspaper coverage included a reference to the environment, even though much of the UK’s environmental regulations are decided in Europe. TV bulletins had none.
Traditional media such as the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times, do commendable and varied coverage of climate change, but new digital-born players are providing additional and innovative material that raises the profile of climate change in the public sphere.
In a new book published by the Reuters Institute, Something Old, Something New: Digital Media and the Coverage of Climate Change, we looked at how the tone, style and formats of new players are at times setting them apart from mainstream media and engaging younger audiences in new ways.