Why we need new stories on climate

Why we need new stories on climate

Climate change was a story that fell on mostly indifferent ears when it was first discussed in the mainstream more than 30 years ago. Even a dozen years ago, it was supposed to be happening very slowly and in the distant future. Years ago, the Hungarian philosopher of science, Ervin László, said that heavy meat eating was a crime against the future of humanity. Now, a couple of decades later, more and more people start to realize how far sighted that remark was. 

Much has changed in the meantime regarding the public perception of it, and I’ve watched the news over the years like everybody else.

The Hotpot newsletter brings readers climate stories with lasting value, looking at climate issues through a solution-based lens. It examines initiatives by people, communities, or organizations, aimed to solve specific climate problems—critically evaluating these efforts on how well they work, whether they have the potential to scale, and what we can learn from them.

 

Dire messages and their boomerang effects

In a journalistic environment where the mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” continues to resonate—and is amplified ever more by the clickbait web—there is a professional bias in favor of reporting on violence, crime, police brutality, and other negative tropes. Looking at research about how audiences process negative information helps to contextualize negative journalism frames.

Political science studies have found that negative stories largely have a greater influence on audiences’ perceptions of candidates and voting behavior.2 Readers are more likely to click a hyperlink to a negative political story than a link with a positive headline. 2  1

On top of that, several studies in psychology complement findings of a “negativity bias,” which suggests that people devote more attention to processing negative information,2 are more likely to think it’s true,5 and to remember it.Researchers argue that the strength of bad over good makes evolutionary sense and that humans are actually hardwired to be more psycho-physiologically aroused by negative news. 7 Previous studies on the impact of news on our mental health have shown negative views leaves people feeling disengaged, demotivated and depressed and can leave audiences with a skewed view of the world.

But negative news stories are only influential when people are willing to consume it. A 2008 study of young people’s media habits by the Associated Press found that many complained about the negativity of news. They reported turning to satirical “fake news” outlets like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as an antidote to their “news fatigue.”8

Boomerang effects have also been associated with climate change communication, where dire messages about global warming appear to make people more skeptical about the phenomenon.12 In health communication, audiences that consumed media that framed health issues negatively were found to have lower perceptions of their own efficacy or behavioral intent around seeking preventative care.13 In the field of humanitarian campaigns, researchers document compassion fatigue—when messages trigger a sense of hopelessness—or even a boomerang effect—when audiences resent being subjected to messages that evoke guilt.

 

Awareness, but a rising desire and need for positive, actionable stories

Climate change was a story that fell on mostly indifferent ears when it was first discussed in the mainstream more than 30 years ago. Even a dozen years ago, it was supposed to be happening very slowly and in the distant future.

The conversation surrounding climate change is transitioned to news messaging about mostly short-term and dire stories. Stories on the latest drop in price, or proliferation of solar and wind over the past year or two. Leaving readers with a lack of context. Yet,

One of the things that buoys me up is the long arc of change in renewable technology. Mostly what you see in the news about renewables is short-term: stories on the latest drop in price, or proliferation of solar and wind over the past year or two. If you enlarge your time frame, you see that those annual changes have amounted to an astonishing plummet in prices and rise in efficiency and global use, compounded by innovations in materials and storage. we miss context here.

But how do audiences process and react to stories about their communities presented within negative frames? How would stories that address these systemic problems—while also exploring their solutions—impact readers?

Latest research led by Bournemouth University shows two-thirds (66%) of those interviewed switched off the news to avoid negative feelings at least sometimes during the pandemic, with three in ten doing so often or very often. Interviewees also reported wanting more constructive news, with suggestions such as reporting on planning for future pandemics, how the NHS was practically responding to the pandemic and more coverage of the science behind the vaccine.

Climate change is considered to be the biggest threat to humanity. The last thing we need right now is people disengaging the conversation. Previous studies on the impact of news on our mental health have shown negative views leaves people feeling disengaged, demotivated and depressed and can leave audiences with a skewed view of the world.

  • Advocates also argue that constructive journalism presents a more accurate reflection of the world by telling the whole story, that it can increase trust in journalism because people see themselves more honestly reflected in the news, and that it makes it more likely that people will get involved in responses to problems. They also say it increases accountability of those in power and has more impact in bringing about change: flagging up an evidence-based solution means a problem moves from being unavoidable to inexcusable. As David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network says: “By showing and examining what works, local leaders are unable to hide behind excuses.”

 

A unique, editorial focus on climate reporting

The most important conclusion from the studies mentioned above, is that people feel more efficacious after they read these types of stories. As the climate journalist Mary Heglar writes in an article for The Nation, we are not short on innovation. “We’ve got loads of ideas for solar panels and microgrids. While we have all of these pieces, we don’t have a picture of how they come together to build a new world. For too long, the climate fight has been limited to scientists and policy experts. While we need their skills, we also need so much more. […]”. Our study was the first to link that to policy support for collective action for climate adaptation.

But again, we have seen this result of solutions oriented journalism leading to efficacy. And I hope that that would encourage journalists and editors to add some more solutions oriented journalism into the mix, because the whole point of journalism is to give citizens the information they need to make sense of the world and to be civic actors in the world.

And if they don’t know what’s working, or what the choices are among what are different ways to address problems, they don’t really have all the information they need. And then they’re not going to feel efficacious, and they might be less likely to actually use that information and go out, and let’s say, vote for candidates who support things they want, or ask their representatives to allocate money to problems they think are addressing. So I think that’s the most important takeaway from this study.

Solutions journalism is much more than a feel-good genre as some people would proclaim.

To create an informed public.

  • Another new study by the Solutions Journalism Network reveals that people consistently prefer solutions-focused stories to problem-focused ones. It also shows audiences strongly prefer stories that help them understand how people in communities are working to confront society’s challenges and they find solutions stories more trustworthy, interesting & uplifting and are inspired to be more involved in their communities.
  • Research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism during the Covid pandemic shows high levels of news avoidance in the UK, echoing their pre-Covid reports including their 2019 Digital News Report which revealed nearly a third of people globally say they actively avoid the news, up 3% in two years. The main reason people give for avoiding the news is that it has a negative effect on their mood (58%). They also cite feeling powerless to change events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disengagement due to negative messaging, and where it comes from.

    • research shows that dire messages make people more skepitcal about the phenomenon. leaves people diengaged, demotivated and depressed and a skeweed view of the world.
    • last thing we need.

 

Dire messages and their boomerang effects

Climate news has long been focused on threats, causes, and the impacts of climate change, leaving readers with an often depressing and frightening image of things to come. This image seems grounded, as several studies have found that there is a professional bias in favor of reporting on violence, crime, and police brutality. In other words, predominantly negative news stories.

This is partly due to the nature of journalism itself, as the media often prioritizes stories that are dramatic, alarming, or controversial in order to attract attention and generate interest. This tendency is not unique to climate news but is a broader characteristic of news coverage across various topics.

Moreover, studies have indeed found a professional bias toward reporting on violence, crime, and other negative events. This bias can be attributed to several factors, including the notion that negative news stories tend to capture more attention and elicit stronger emotional responses from audiences. This, in turn, leads to higher viewership or readership, which is beneficial for media organizations in terms of ratings and revenue.

While it is important to acknowledge the potential bias and negative focus in climate news, it is worth noting that there has been a growing recognition among journalists and media outlets of the need to provide a more balanced and solutions-oriented approach to climate reporting. Many journalists are now attempting to highlight positive actions, innovative solutions, and inspiring stories related to climate change in order to engage readers and promote a sense of empowerment and agency in addressing the issue.

Furthermore, efforts are being made to improve science communication and present climate change information in a more accessible and understandable manner. This includes emphasizing the connections between climate change and everyday life, focusing on local and community-level impacts, and highlighting the potential benefits of taking action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Overall, while the negative focus in climate news can be disheartening, it is important to seek out a variety of sources and perspectives to get a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. Additionally, being aware of the bias and actively seeking out positive and solution-oriented stories can help create a more balanced perception of climate change and inspire constructive engagement.

I’ve to admit that for several years I have been watching the news and reading the newspapers myself, and while climate change is one of the most fascinating areas for me to learn about right now aside from my writing, I also can’t ignore the doom and gloom messages triggering a certain amount of hopelessness in me. While being exposed to today’s climate news can be overwhelming, I also felt it’s starting to become a tough story to write about.

Therefore, political science studies have tried to contextualize those negative journalism frames by looking at how audiences process negative information and found that readers are more likely to click a hyperlink to a negative political story than a link with a positive headline 2  1

On top of that, several studies in psychology complement findings of a “negativity bias,” which suggests that people devote more attention to processing negative information,2 are more likely to think it’s true,5 and to remember it.Researchers argue that the strength of bad over good makes evolutionary sense, because human beings are actually hardwired to be more psycho-physiologically aroused by negative news.

While most of the messages on climate change are predominantly short-term, dire, and alarming, on the flip side it has started to trigger a certain level of what is called news fatigue among readers. Previous studies on the impact of news on our mental health have shown negative views leave people feeling disengaged, demotivated, and depressed and can leave audiences with a skewed view of the world.

Another 2008 study of young people’s media habits by the Associated Press found that many readers complained about the negativity of news. They reported turning to satirical “fake news” outlets like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as an antidote to their “news fatigue.”8 One of the conclusions one can take out of this is that negative news stories are only influential when people are willing to consume it.

For several years I have been watching the news and reading the newspapers myself, and while climate change is one of the most fascinating areas for me to learn about right now, I also can’t ignore the doom and gloom messages triggering a certain amount of hopelessness in me. While being exposed to today’s climate news can be overwhelming, I also felt it’s starting to become a tough story to write about.

Boomerang effects have also been associated with climate change communication, where dire messages about global warming appear to make people more skeptical about the phenomenon.12 In health communication, audiences that consumed media that framed health issues negatively were found to have lower perceptions of their own efficacy or behavioral intent around seeking preventative care.13 In the field of humanitarian campaigns, researchers document compassion fatigue—when messages trigger a sense of hopelessness—or even a boomerang effect—when audiences resent being subjected to messages that evoke guilt.

 

Adding context in a world of overload

On the other hand, long-form in-depth articles that add context to the news stories we see every day are also scarce. There are a few climate reporters and deliver great, valuable pieces that everyone should hear about. By publishing the weekly edition we make that easier for readers to consume, and I believe we are curating the newsletter in a way no one else does at the moment.

 

A rising need for positive, actionable stories

The public awareness on the reality of climate change is now bigger than ever, and as the effects of climate change will continue to become visible to us in the coming years.

Which is triggered by the climate news stories that are mainly focused on the latest, rather than the finest news stories that provide readers insights and context on how to interpret these stories.

The Hotpot aims to shift the conversation on climate towards actual solutions that are being tested and implemented.

Most of the reportings on climate nowadays is focused on the latest, rather than the finest news stories that provide readers insights and context on how to interpret these stories.

The Hotpot newsletter brings readers climate stories with lasting value, looking at climate issues through a solution-based lens. It examines initiatives by people, communities, or organizations, aimed to solve specific climate problems—critically evaluating these efforts on how well they work, whether they have the potential to scale, and what we can learn from them.

 

Last note

The Hotpot brings its own editorial focus, aiming to tackle news fatigue while reaching a younger, more diverse audience. The editorial choice of what to report and how to report it is always subjective, but facts are real. We check out facts and tell the truth without losing sight of how the audience wants to be involved with the news.

So The Hotpot serves the need to express our own approach to climate journalism through my own outlet, backed by truly wonderful climate journalists – viewing the reader as a decision-maker, less like a consumer is a rare commodity. We empower our readers to make conscious choices and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient planet. It highlights the assumption that the reporting will have some utilitarian value – and respect to the reader a belief that the audience really does want to make the best possible decision.

As said before, exploring real initiatives that aim to create a better world on their efficacy, can actually create a more informed and more engaged public. People disengaging from such an urgent topic like climate is probably the last thing we need right now. The Hotpot aims to bring climate stories in such a way that it not only informs the reader about how to solve climate issues but also engages and motivates readers to stay connected to the conversation. So we curate stories on climate in a way that no one else does. We try to turn the chaos into order and hopefully succeed in changing the conversation around climate into a more constructive one.

Climate change affects just about every facet of society, and while the topic can be overwhelming, the climate crisis demands of us to change our relationship with the physical world. Stories can fuel that transition if done properly because, in essence, journalism is all about giving readers the information they need to make sense of the world and to be civic actors in the world.

In other words, stories on a liveable future that show us how to create one, not only inform us about what it takes to make the world we need but also motivate us to do what it takes.

I’m very excited about what the future holds.

 

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Footnotes

  1. M.F. Meffert et al., “The Effects of Negativity and Motivated Information Processing During a Political Campaign,” Journal of Communication (2006): 27–51.

 

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