“Climate reporting is increasingly taking centre stage in Africa, and so is the growing number of journalists, media organisations and climate activists actively playing a role in climate-driven data/investigative climate journalism. Remarkably, journalists are interested in reporting on climate change to demystify the narrative of other people narrating their own stories and the perceived community impacts,” says Sandra Musonzah, founder of Youth Climate Leadership Initiative (YCLIEN).

Musonzah says too often international conversations around climate change are dominated by Western narratives and include their projection of the perceived impacts on developing African countries. However, African journalists have been actively ensuring that they voice out their perspectives and also lead in educating and informing the public on their understanding of the current and future challenges to face the continent.

Climate change has gained significant attention in recent years, and according to Rosette Gladys Nandutu, a journalist and green advocate for social justice and climate action at VIDEA, newsrooms have been reporting on the issue extensively as climate change is an urgent issue that requires attention and action. Nandutu says that the importance of climate change coverage cannot be overstated, as climate change has far-reaching implications for the planet and society.

“The scientific consensus is clear: the Earth’s climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and human activities are largely responsible for this change. This has serious implications for everything from sea level rise to extreme weather events, and the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. As such, the public must be informed about the latest developments in climate science and policy, and newsrooms play a critical role in providing this information,” says Nandutu. She says that audiences are becoming increasingly aware of the impacts of climate change which has led to a greater need for information on the topic. As a result, newsrooms are responding to this demand by providing in-depth coverage of climate-related issues, from the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities to the latest developments in renewable energy technology, says Nandutu. Adding that “the urgency of the climate crisis, combined with the growing public interest in the topic, has led to extensive coverage of climate-related issues in the media.”

Musonzah suggests a guideline that journalists and newsrooms should follow when reporting on climate change:

  • The media organisation should produce informative and timely climate-related information including futurist weather implications. To constantly inform communities most affected by climate change, and corporate on the fast overturning climate risks and providing opportunities presented to cope and adapt.
  • The African climate change narrative should be centric and forward thinking in tackling climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Journalists and science analysts should work together to break down or simplify the climate change jargon and the statistic to be easy to digest for individuals, communities and the business world. The newsroom requires realistic projection of the climate impacts to safeguard the interest of investors and corporate business henceforward climate information should be broadminded and tolerant of the messaging packaging for diverse audiences.
  • Climate reporting on community voices and success stories enables the newsroom to wish to share great practical achievements henceforward it is of great importance for media organisations to focus on documentaries.
  • The newsroom is interested in reporting climate change however the media networks need to unpack the technical aspects of climate change which are easy for communities and individuals to understand to enable robust information dissemination to society.

Despite journalists’ interest in reporting on climate reporting, there are several challenges that journalists face with reporting on the climate. “Climate change is often a slow and gradual process, making it challenging to capture and convey its impacts in a way that is newsworthy and engaging. We also experience resistance or scepticism from communities and rhetoric from political figures also makes it challenging, which can lead to a backlash. There are also limited resources, especially for journalists in small newsrooms which hinder in-depth investigative reporting on climate change,” says Mumbi Mutuko, freelancer with Nairobi Law Monthly.

As a journalist reporting on climate change in Uganda, Nandutu says she faces several challenges. “Firstly, the lack of awareness and understanding of climate change among the general public makes it difficult to convey the urgency of the situation. Many people still view climate change as a distant problem that does not affect them directly. Secondly, the limited access to reliable data and information on climate change in Uganda makes it challenging to report on the issue accurately,” says Nandutu. She says that the government and other relevant institutions need to provide more data and information to journalists to enable them to report on climate change comprehensively. “Reporting on climate change in Uganda is a challenging task that requires more support from the government, relevant institutions and the public. Journalists must be equipped with the necessary resources and information to report on climate change accurately and comprehensively,” says Nandutu.

Musonzah says climate activists and journalists face challenges with simplifying the statistical figures projected in climate research references resulting in writing stories that audiences are sceptical to read due to a lack of understanding and misinterpretation of the figures.

“To be an effective journalist one should practice investigative journalism which is entitled to intensive research in affected communities however due to limited funding journalists face sub-standard data as they resort to online fact-checking and documentation of stories.”

How can journalists get communities to engage with stories about climate change? 

“This has been a very difficult hurdle in this journey for various reasons, however, it is important to understand that getting communities to actively engage with stories about climate change requires a multi-faceted approach,” says Mutuko. Climate stories need to be presented in a way that people can connect with their everyday lives, making the details relatable and relevant to their immediate surroundings helps to capture their attention and generate interest,” she says. Mutuko suggests that journalists should source “local voices and experts in the reporting process to enhance credibility and build community trust. “Additionally, for me, it’s important to tell these stories in our local dialect because not everyone in Kenya speaks English or Swahili which are our national languages.”

To get the communities audience engaged about climate change Musonzah says:

  • Journalists should ensure that their climate stories clearly define climate terminologies/jargon and replace them with simple words befitting the audience’s context. To buttress the rural community due to differing literacy levels requires climate stories with realistic visuals, simple words, and simplified figures to easily digest and understand the message being conveyed by the articles or video documentaries. To the corporate/business/investors audience, climate stories should project the long-term impact without necessarily scaring the audience. The newsroom should also try to rewrite a good narrative on climate impact on business to counter unrealistic projections that are sometimes used to get the attention of people. For example, newsrooms should play with factual figures to support prevailing data on the negative impacts of climate change.
  • Journalists should practice investigative journalism by documenting the voices of the affected people while also going on the ground, verifying the obtained data before publishing and ensuring they capture all the voices from all viewpoints.
  • Climate change has been viewed to be a scientific subject henceforth storytellers could make use of strategic presentations that are more visual when buttressing their citing of what has happened and best practices to mitigate or adapt. Journalists should co-work with science analysts to simplify climate statistics to be easily understood.
  • Writers are instrumental in shaping policy advocacy and influencing developmental change. Of course readers read articles to stay informed about prevailing events and at the same time, interest is growing in wanting journalist’s perspectives on the realistic recommendation which can be upscaled. Writers should ensure after reporting climate impacts that more emphasis should be on appropriate measures to be taken by communities, donor communities and the government to swiftly mitigate the problems. Writers should be strategic in how they can use their contextual narrative to influence policy change and enhance sustainable development.
  • Climate knowledge for readers should be intentional and context-specific to the audiences. The writers should have articles that address all people (women, youth and men) at the same time tackling topics relevant to their contextual vulnerabilities. For instance, African writers should write about solutions to agriculture and food systems, etc.
  • Writers should invest in community-centred journalism which brings out the interest of communities. Readers want to read and learn from success case stories of the community’s lived experiences before and after climate-related impacts occur. To this end, journalists should document the views/preparedness of the communities before the occurrence of climate-related impacts to learn, share and discuss their perspective on climate change. Sharing of climate-related interests of communities creates a relationship between media houses and communities enabling deliverables of quality data and the uptake of recommendations given during the process.

“It is important to provide readers with actionable steps they can take to address climate change. This can include suggestions for reducing their carbon footprint or getting involved in local environmental initiatives. By empowering readers to take action, they are more likely to feel invested in the issue and motivated to make a difference. Overall, engaging communities with stories about climate change requires making the issue relevant, presenting information clearly, and providing actionable steps for readers to take,” says Nandutu.

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