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Surmounting climate doom and gloom: Solutions journalism in Jordan and beyond

Apr 08,2023 - Last updated at Apr 08,2023

“People do not learn from problems by reading about problems,” Cheryl Dahle, Climate Initiative manager of the Solutions Journalism Network, said in a recent online session on solutions journalism.

In a world where misinformation and disinformation about climate change run rampant, there is an urgent need to disseminate accurate, timely information regarding the severity of the issue. 

News outlets generally tend to prioritise attention grabbing stories and headlines to attract readership or viewership. The dramatic negative impacts of climate change often provide compelling narratives that cater to this need for sensationalism. The 24-hour news cycle and battles for attention characteristic of the digital age can spotlight immediate, dramatic events. Usually, stories that evoke strong emotions, such as fear and anger, are more likely to be shared and discussed, further incentivising outlets to emphasise the type of news stories that attract online engagement. Whether due to a lack of deep understanding of environmental issues or simple adherence to the journalistic convention of reporting that zeros in on problems, conflicts and disasters, the current state of environmental journalism is marked by gloomy reporting that immobilises, rather than galvanises.

Like the US and many other parts of the world, Jordan is not immune to the climate change scepticism that continues to plague public discourse and hinder the effective adoption of measures to combat this global crisis.

A potential remedy lies in the emerging power of solutions journalism.

Solutions journalism is a style of reporting that focuses on responses to social issues, rather than simply highlighting the problems themselves. By showcasing success stories, effective policies and innovative approaches to tackling climate change, solutions journalism has the potential to inspire action and challenge misconceptions.

The escalating consequences of climate change reverberate around the globe with stark clarity, forcing growing numbers of people to confront the reality and immediacy of the crisis.

From raging wildfires in New Mexico and San Francisco’s creeping sea level rise to decreasing rainfall in Jordan, the changing climate makes itself impossible to ignore. 

Through the lens of solutions journalism, the growing recognition of the crisis presents itself as an opportunity for the discipline’s proponents to offer evidence-based, practical strategies to the public.

Recent statistics show that media consumption is a force capable of shaping public opinion, and as such, plays a significant role in raising awareness.

The International Public Opinion on Climate Change 2022, conducted by the Yale Programme on Climate Change Communication in partnership with Meta’s “Data for Good”, surveyed individuals from 192 countries and territories worldwide. 

In only a slim minority of surveyed areas did a majority of respondents report that they hear about climate change throughout the course of their day (from sources such as TV, newspapers, social media or conversations with friends and family) at least once per week.

A majority of respondents spread throughout the countries, territories and groups surveyed said that they know at least a moderate amount about climate change. In nearly all areas covered by the survey, respondents thought that humans are at least partially to blame for climate change. A majority of respondents in nearly every area reported feeling worried about climate change, according to the study.

By shifting focus to solutions journalism, media outlets can leverage their demonstrable influence to promote understanding and inspire climate action. 

Prioritising solutions journalism allows media outlets to draw the public’s attention to the progress being made in the fight against climate change, rather than merely daunting statistics. 

However, in today's fast-paced and constantly evolving news media landscape, outlets often struggle to find the resources and time to cover complex, long-term issues like environmental challenges. Faced with the need to attract readership and maintain profitability, many news organisations treat environmental reporting as a “luxury” that they cannot afford. Given the existential threat posed by climate change, it is vital that we empower the media to inform the public about environmental issues. Solutions journalism can be of critical use in achieving this goal.

Solutions journalism can also help to build a more inclusive and diverse dialogue surrounding environmental issues, highlighting the voices and experiences of the marginalised communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change. By highlighting solutions, this theory of journalism informs, engages and inspires the public to take climate action, providing the opportunity for an industry-wide paradigm shift away from the nihilistic paralysis that results from the current approach.

Empowering the media to more effectively cover environmental issues requires several necessary conditions. First, media organisations must prioritise environmental reporting and allocate the necessary resources to support in-depth, solutions-focused journalism. This may involve training journalists in specialised reporting skills, investing in environmental beats and fostering partnerships with experts and organisations that can provide valuable insight and expertise, according to environmentalists and experts speaking to a Jordanian media delegation during a recent trip to the US organised by the US embassy in Amman as part of a programme called “Road to COP28”. They, too, need continued support in this regard.

Second, it is of paramount importance to recognise and support the indispensible role of independent, non-profit news organisations that are dedicated to covering environmental issues. Certainly, more is needed to encourage greater collaboration and information-sharing among journalists, scientists and policymakers. By fostering a more open and transparent dialogue, we can ensure that environmental reporting is grounded in the latest scientific research and informed by a diverse range of perspectives.

A ward against misinformation, scepticism and fear-induced inaction, solutions journalism proves a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. By focusing on practical, effective strategies and promoting accurate information, media outlets can do their part in raising awareness and fostering a more informed, productive and proactive approach.

It is time to go beyond doom and gloom, and instead choose to instil motivation and hope by showing the public that success stories are possible and actionable solutions available in the fight for this planet.

 

The writer is editor-in-chief of The Jordan Times and regularly writes for international media outlets.

 

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