As the climate story becomes impossible to ignore, newsrooms are recognizing that audiences not only want to hear about the problem of climate change, but also about the solutions. Journalists are interested in increasing their coverage of climate solutions across beats — and there are plenty of underreported stories to tell.
CCNow invited Fara Warner and Swati Sanyal Tarafdar from Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) to talk about their robust, evidence-based approach to reporting on solutions and how to apply it to the climate story both locally and globally. It coincided with the release of our new Climate Solutions Reporting Guide, co-produced with SJN, that offers guidance for journalists throughout the newsroom.
“Solutions Journalism Network urges us as journalists to tell the whole story, not only what’s wrong, but also efforts to make it right,” said CCNow executive director Mark Hertsgaard. “I think we can all agree that nowhere is such solutions reporting more urgently needed today than on the climate story.”
So what is “solutions journalism”? SJN defines it as “rigorous, evidence-based reporting” on how people, communities, and organizations are responding to a particular problem. Solutions journalism is not about hero worship, cheerleading, or activism but about informing the public about potential solutions. “The characters are important for the storytelling, but we do not focus on them for the story,” Tarafdar said. “We focus on the system, on the solution, on the process that is working to alleviate the problem.”
When reporting on solutions, Warner urges journalists to look at stories through a lens of equity and justice. It’s important that the solutions are beneficial to the communities that disproportionately suffer from the climate crisis, including the poor, people of color, Indigenous people, women, and children.
Solutions journalism stories are those that answer the following questions: What is the proposed response — or solution — to a problem? What evidence do we have that it’s working? What insights about the solution can be reported that could be helpful? What are the limitations of the solution?
“What we are looking for is [quantitative and qualitative] … evidence of effectiveness,” Warner says. “We are not about intentions and promises.” As an example, Warner points to a three-month pilot project in Germany that offered low-priced public transportation tickets at a flat rate with the goal of cutting fossil fuel consumption. The evidence that it worked? The program is reported to have saved about 1.8 million tons of CO2 emissions and importantly, it reached its target audience: One-fifth of the 52 million tickets sold were purchased by people who don’t normally use public transportation.
Reporting insights or lessons learned provides context and information that can be helpful to others who could benefit from a particular solution. Tarafdar recommends “visualizing a member of your audience in a different location with a similar problem” that might want to implement a given solution and asking “What else would they need to know?” In the Germany story, the insight is that the program made the climate solution easy, by having a flat-rate for all train tickets, and affordable, they were 9 Euros.
Warner says that reporting on the limitations of a solution is at the heart of solutions journalism. “Some of my favorite stories that come out of solutions reporting are what we call instructive failure stories. A solution may work in a very limited way, but it may also fail, but we can also learn from failure.” In the Germany example, the biggest limitation is that the program only existed for three months, and is challenging to make permanent because of the costs to the government, which subsidized the program. Also, people claimed trains were overcrowded.
As the Germany example illustrates, there are no “perfect stories,” as Warner puts it. The big idea is to give audiences and communities the information needed to “move them forward in this climate crisis and be there along with them.”
Related reading and resources
- Solutions Journalism is holding a training session on February 8. Register here. To request training with Solutions Journalism Network, click here and to sign up for our new peer network click here.
- Climate Solutions Reporting Guide — CCNow and SJN
- “Investigative Journalism Meets Solutions Journalism” – SJN
- “Leveraging Solutions Journalism for Revenue Growth” — The Whole Story
- “Germany’s €9 Train Tickets Scheme ‘Saved 1.8m Tons of CO2 Emissions’” — Guardian
- “Liberia: Fighting Deforestation with Waste”
Mark Hertsgaard: Hello and welcome to another talking shop with Covering Climate Now. I’m Mark Hertsgaard. I’m the executive director of Covering Climate Now and also the environment correspondent for the Nation Magazine. The topic of today’s Talking Shop, how to do climate solutions reporting. It’s a topic a lot of you have asked about and so we’re delivering it here today from Covering Climate Now.
We are a global collaboration of more than 500 news outlets that reach a total audience of some two billion people. We’re organized by journalists for journalists to help all of us do a better job covering the defining story of our time. It costs nothing to join Covering Climate Now. There’s no editorial line except no climate denial. You can visit our website www.coveringclimatenow.org, and you’ll see a list of our partners. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter, check out all of our background resources, join our Slack channel, and apply for your news organization to join Covering Climate Now, or you can join as a freelancer.
And speaking of our resources, you’ll find a new one there today, the Climate Solutions Reporting Guide, which we compiled with the co-sponsor of Today’s Talking Shop, the Solutions Journalism Network. We’re very pleased to be partnering with them today. They work with more than 500 newsrooms around the world and have worked with more than 20,000 journalists to transform journalism from focusing overwhelmingly on the problems facing communities and humanity, and instead, also include how people are trying to solve those problems.
In other words, the Solutions Journalism Network urges us as journalists to tell the whole story not only what’s wrong, but also efforts to make it right. And I think we can all agree that nowhere is such solutions reporting more urgently needed today than on the climate story. The record number of people attending this talking shop indicates that journalists are increasingly keen to explore this approach. Anyone who’s paying attention can see that climate change is getting worse fast. And while journalists should certainly keep highlighting the extreme weather that is resulting in the floods, the droughts, the heat waves, and reminding audiences that these disasters are caused mainly by burning fossil fuels, all of that remains critical, but it’s crucial that we also help audiences understand there are solutions to this problem.
So, properly conveying that message is a challenge. And as you’re about to hear, climate solutions reporting is not cheerleading, nor is it activism or naïveté; it’s about interrogating possible solutions and informing the public and policymakers about which ones work and which ones don’t. This is the right thing to do, not only journalistically but also commercially, it turns out. Opinion surveys show that audiences want this kind of coverage. They’re tired of only hearing about how messed up the world around them is. They want to know what can be done about it. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
I’ll introduce our two Solutions Journalism Network colleagues in a moment. We’ll hear from them for about half an hour, and then the remainder of the hour will be spent taking your questions. Afterwards, we’ll send everyone who’s attending here a link to the video recording. And meanwhile, you are invited to tweet throughout the session using @CoveringClimate and the #CCNow, and now I hope you’ll join me in giving a warm virtual welcome to our trainers today.
First, Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is an independent social justice journalist based in India and an accredited trainer with the Solutions Journalism Network. She mentors journalists all around the world and hosts regular Solutions Journalism trainings on YouTube through her channel Earth Solutions Network, that’s Earth Solutions Network on YouTube.
And joining her is Fara Warner. She’s the climate director at Solutions Journalism Network. She’s an award-winning journalist and digital media expert who has held top executive roles at the Wall Street Journal, AOL Incorporated, ,Newsweek and The Daily Beast. And she is our esteemed partner here at Covering Climate Now. So I’m going to turn it over to the two of them, and we’re going to learn here today about solutions journalism, especially as it applies to the climate story. Fara and Swati, take it away.
Fara Warner: Thank you so much, Mark. And I am going to share my screen now with everyone, so just give me a second, and then we’ll get started. All right, Swati, I’m going to turn it over to you to get us started.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Thank you so much, Fara. Thank you so much, Mark. Greetings everyone, wherever you are tuning in from and whenever you are watching us live or the recording, big thank you for coming. And once again, thank you, Fara, Mark, and the behind-the-scenes team for doing this. I’m so delighted to be here.
So, Solutions Journalism has made a huge mark around the world. We all know that now. Its efficiency and relevance in terms of audience engagement and revenue generation is already well-recorded. We can share a few links if you wish to know more about these. When it comes to reporting on climate, we find that it’s a remarkable way to communicate climate coverage through Solutions Journalism which for the most part, our audiences kind of complain that climate coverage is depressing, anxiety-inducing.
With solutions journalism, SoJo, as we love to call it sometimes, climate coverage gives a direction, a sense of purpose and impetus to act. But what is solutions journalism? Could you please type into the chat what’s that one word you think of when I say solutions journalism? As you type I’ll quickly go through the agenda for this session today. So we’ll try to understand the solutions journalism framework, what it is and what it is not. We will check out how the four pillars of SoJo are incorporated into various climate solution stories. As we do this, we’ll brainstorm how we can apply the solutions journalism framework into our climate reporting to tell the whole story.
So I see interesting words and phrases appearing in the chat box. Thank you so much. So let’s move on into the definition of solutions journalism. What is solutions journalism? We define it as rigorous, evidence-based reporting on responses to social problems. By solutions here, we refer to how people, communities, organizations respond to a particular problem. They do something to cope that might work very well or not. Okay. Whatever be the situation, in solutions journalism, we cover all of it meticulously, thoroughly examining the evidence of the impact that we gathered through our reporting. If the solution is not entirely working, we try to see why it is not working or where is it failing or how that might work. Please try to tell the complete story. So Fara, could you please take us through the four pillars of solutions journalism?
Fara Warner: Great, thank you so much Swati for that introduction. And yes, there are some interesting words coming up. I see deep dive, I see unclear, I see hopeful, I see optimistic. So keep those words coming because they help us better understand where you are in your understanding of solutions journalism.
So at Solutions Journalism, we work within a four pillars framework. Those four pillars are: What is the response? What is the evidence of the response working? What are the insights that you can express to your audience and your community through the work that you produce, so others may learn from your writing and your reporting? And what are importantly the limitations? I always say that limitations are at the heart of Solutions journalism reporting, they help guard against greenwashing. They help us guard against thinking about something as a silver bullet. And they really show people what isn’t working and what might be possible. And when you link insights and limitations together, it becomes very clear. Someone might be reading your story and they go, “I can solve for that limitation. I know how to figure something out.” And so by bringing limitations always into your reporting, that becomes really important.
I’m going to take us a little bit deeper into each of these. So we really want to focus on the response to the problem. And importantly, how did it happen? We like to call them the “how done it.” And in this, I also want to bring an equity and justice lens to everything that we talk about today. When you’re thinking about the responses that you want to cover, are you looking at responses that are most important to the communities that you cover? And are they most important to the communities most affected by the climate crisis?
We do know that the people who live on the front lines of the climate crisis are often people who are in communities of color, who are marginalized communities, and who often are not heard of and talked about and reported on in the climate crisis. So thinking about your response to the problem, also always keep an equity and justice lens around that. The next important step is providing evidence of impact and looking at the effectiveness. We are not about intentions and promises. We’ve had enough of good intentions and broken promises in the climate crisis. So what we are looking for in every work that is produced on solutions journalism is evidence of effectiveness. And again, through a social justice and an equity lens, think about the evidence of impact that is most important for that community that you’re writing about or that you’re producing work on. We love to see qualitative and quantitative evidence. And importantly, I like to say, don’t always think about it having to come from the suits, the people who wear the right clothes, the people who speak your language. Yyouou always want to make sure that you are looking for evidence of impact from those who are the most affected by the response that you’re writing on. So go deep, dig deep.
Quantitative is always really important, but of course we want to have third-party verification of any evidence that is presented to us. We’re going to dig through a couple of stories later and we’ll show you how that evidence of effectiveness comes up. We always want to produce insights. Insights are important because they help others respond. Insights are when you step back from the story and you say, “What have I learned here, and what is most important for my audience and my community to learn?” And again, those insights should really be driven up from the people that you are interviewing, from the people most engaged in the response, and most affected by the problem. And as I pointed out in that other slide, point out any and all limitations.
I know that we sometimes have editors and writers who say to us, or editors and producers, videographers, photographers will say, “but if I point out the limitations, doesn’t that mean I’m taking away from the solution? Doesn’t it mean that I’m sort of diminishing the solution?” Absolutely not. We need to know what the limitations are. So that potentially there are others out there who can say, “I know how to deal with that limitation. I know how to overcome it.” And importantly, failure is okay. Some of my favorite stories that come out of solutions reporting are what we call instructive failure stories. A solution may work in a very limited way, but it may also fail, but we can also learn from failure. So again, response to the problem, evidence of impact, not just intention, produce insights, and point out limitations. Now Swati, I’m going to turn it over to you for what solutions journalism isn’t because we always like to do this. So I’ll let you take it away.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Thank you, Fara, that was fantastic. So we saw words such as “action,” “positive” coming up in the chat when we asked about “what is that one word to define solutions journalism?” And this is so much better than what we had like a year or two ago. And now that Fara has showed you how deep solutions journalism runs, let me set the record straight about what it is not. It is definitely not fluff, it is not a feel-good story. Solutions journalism might make you feel inspired and hopeful after reading a well-written story. And that is a byproduct. A solution story is not based on a theory or a recommendation that a researcher writes at the end of the published paper or something that a politician or bureaucrat suggests people can do to overcome something. We have plenty of such examples in India these days. It is not wishful thinking or a light bulb moment. The solution has to be in practice, and that is what makes it different from a press release copy. The solution has to be in practice implemented on ground for some time so that we can gauge how effective it is to solve that particular problem. We need to be able to measure the impact of the solution in qualitative or quantitative terms. As Fara explained, we might need to produce hard data to showcase hard data if we can find of that solution or sound bites from people who are benefiting from that solution. So not just the person or the company or the organization who is devising and offering the solution, but people who are benefiting from it. And these impact actually shows us whether this solution is working, it’s very effective, not at all effective, or it’s somewhere in the middle.
So it’s necessary for a solution or response to be in practice for it to be covered as a solutions journalism story. And it is okay if that period is a piloting period for a project. And the solution has to be replicable. That’s the other thing. It’s not a silver bullet and one of events that somebody just does for one time, an old man donating their pension money for some cause. These are nice to know stories, but these are not solution stories. These do make you feel better, but this is not a system that can be replicated through in a different community or in a geographical area. So in solutions journalism, the solution is the hero. And we do not do hero-worship in the sense that we do not hype or highlight the character. The characters are important for the storytelling, but we do not focus on them for the story. We focus on the system, on the solution, on the process that is working to elevate the problem.
And when we put the solution in the center, make it the hero and look at it, examine it from all angles and cover all the good, bad, and ugly parts objectively, we get a good solutions story. We’ll return to the four pillars once more here because adhering to these four pillars actually equips us and power us journalists to not get into the activism mode or favoring a friend in the communications department mode. These four pillars produce all the checks and boundaries that we need to stay objective and on the whole story path. So that’s mostly it. We have to focus. We have to constantly understand that even when we are reading a story, a solutions story, or when we are working on our own solutions story, are we having these four pillars in place? If we have these four pillars in place in whatever shape or form, it more or less ensures that we are telling the complete story. So over to you, Fara, for how to apply solutions journalism into climate coverage.
Fara Warner: Thank you so much, Swati. Yeah, I wanted to reiterate one thing around sort of hero-worship and to also say that that doesn’t mean that those stories where you are centering a specific person or what they do, isn’t good journalism. It’s just not solutions journalism. So you make choices as journalists in what you want to cover and how you want to focus, but for us it really is always centering the response and how it did it and the characters, the people who are implementing it obviously are crucial to great storytelling. But the response should always be at the center. So I’m going to dive into how you can apply solutions journalism in climate coverage. As Mark already said, we have this fabulous news solutions reporting guide, which is a collaboration between our two organizations. This has been a year in the making I think, and just a huge shoutout to both teams on each side of our organizations for making this happen.
What’s great about it is it thinks about climate solutions coverage across every beat. So instead of thinking about climate solutions or any climate reporting as being something that’s done by that other person in your bureau or that other person in your newsroom, this is also centering climate within the work that you do. So it’s broken down into five specific areas: politics and government, economics and business, technologies and practices — which is often where we think about climate solutions, whether it’s EVs or solar, et cetera. — but we’re also really interested in responses within civil society and importantly also responses within culture. I was listening to a podcast a few days ago about the use of music to help people in dealing with climate anxiety and climate fatigue. So really think about this across every single beat. So that’s a great opportunity for you guys to dive into that.
But we like to think about climate solution stories around three specific categories and potentially beyond. Somebody out there right now in this group might say there’s another category. So that’s what that plus is for because I like to think that the coverage of climate is not stagnant. It is constantly changing. The science is constantly evolving and we as journalists need to stay on top of that. So the areas that we focus on with climate solutions in journalism is mitigation. We’re really looking at what are the solutions that decrease the amount of global warming. So the reduction importantly of fossil fuels. We can keep telling people that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, but we need to give them ideas on how to do that and how to do it effectively or we will just keep doing it.
Adaptation. Adaptation is really important in climate solution reporting because we are all living through the climate crisis every single day. It is not coming, it is now, and it has been with us for a very long time. So there are lots of solutions that prepare people and ecosystems for the climate impacts. So adaptation is a rich area for us to focus on. And then finally, resilience. So these are stories that are solutions that help people respond to the climate impacts, not just prepare them for them but actually respond. And I want to make a point about resilience because a very good friend of mine said to me one day, she’s like, some people just have to be resilient because they’ve been forced into that place. And so, one thing I’d like us to remember in all of these stories again, is to come at this through an equity and environmental justice focus. When we are thinking about telling stories, particularly around resilience and adaptation, we need to be honest and respectful about why this certain community had to adapt, had to become resilient.
So those are things to really keep in mind so that we aren’t being extractive and transactional in our coverage of climate because you can still be that and do climate solutions reporting. So we want to make sure that we’re holistically looking at people through their strengths and not just through their deficits. So now we’re going to take an opportunity to dig through two stories with you. Normally we do this in breakout sessions, but I think we have hundreds of people on this call. So Swati and I are going to do this and take you through the stories. I know that the Covering Climate Now team is going to drop these links into the chat for you. So Swati, I’m going to turn it over to you to talk about the story from Liberia.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Yes, thank you so much, Fara. So here we have picked two short simple stories from the Climate Solutions Reporting Guide to demonstrate how to incorporate these four pillars into our climate coverage. And I like to mention here again what Fara said a little earlier that these stories, there are wonderful stories. There are stronger reporting out there. We have picked the stories with the little flaws deliberately to show how SoJo stories can have all those pillars and can still be improved upon. So these stories are significant in their own rights. They give us a glimpse of the climate solutions that are coming up from various regions of the world. So I’ll just get straight into the Liberia story. Liberia you might be knowing, it’s a small country in West Africa where electricity is not available 24 by seven and households and commercial units depend on charcoal made from wood for fuel. People in the rural areas, they use firewood for cooking. So that’s a lot of smoke emissions and deforestation. There’s no other way.
I pull up a small data from the story itself. Yeah, it says, just to put this story into context, to just have a perspective set. The United Nations estimated that more than 950 million people rely on wood and charcoal for cooking in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. That number will rise to 1.67 billion by 2050. So that’s a sentence from the story. I’ll definitely suggest you to go read the story after the session is over and probably go through the points that we are making so that you can make your own analysis and see how strong the pillars are if you can actually identify the pillars for yourself. So what is the solution, the first pillar? And what is the solution? One entrepreneur, one company has found a way to swap the wood based charcoal briquette with briquettes made from coconut shells and agricultural waste. The article describes how they collect agricultural waste, carbonize it, grind it into a fine powder, and make briquettes out of that.
Does the solution help? The article says the company produces tons of charcoal briquettes annually and claim that this briquettes more twice as long as good charcoal produce less emission, thereby saving money for the users, it’s helping recycle waste and prevents deforestation. So there goes your impact. And the article attempts to provide evidence by pointing at some data source from the food and agricultural organization in the Philippines that says a ton of these briquettes was equivalent to conserving up to 88 trees. Deforestation is a big problem in the country and these data kind of sets the tone for the evidence, the pillar two. Are there any limitations to this solution? I pulled up the limitations at the third point. Yes, there are certainly limitations to this particular solution. The first one, the article suggests that Liberia accounts for almost 65% of charcoal demand. That’s an official figure. And although this alternative source has been in demand, the manufacturing process needs fuel. And in the absence of steady electricity, they might have to depend on diesel, which not only adds to the cost but also is something you’re trying to avoid. So that’s pillar three, limitations, and a story can have more than one. What do we learn from this solution? That’s pillar four, the insights. This story informs us that the manufacturing process of this alternate solution is simple. Sourcing trash is not a problem. If alternate sources of energy is available at a reasonable cost, this might be very well work in some communities or in some other geographical location.
So if an entrepreneur in Chennai, India, Chennai is a South Indian city, if somebody from there comes across this article and starts wondering if they can implement this solution in their area where there’s a lot of agricultural waste, coconut orchards are very common here, can they use this information in the story to replicate a similar solution in their city? So that’s a question we will be asking. What else would they need to know? The fourth pillar answers these questions. Insights is what we carry off if we want to replicate this particular solution in our situation. So visualizing a member of your audience in a different location with a similar problem often helps us to chart the information and the need to replicate the solution and answering those questions ensure that you are telling the full story.
So that’s a kind of small way we like to think and brainstorm to have our four pillars in place. So here we examine the solution story to identify the four pillars. These four pillars are present, but they are strong enough? That’s the question we also need to ask often. And then when you read stories, when you read solution stories and maybe other kinds of stories as well, if you can try to analyze this and find out if four pillars could be present, if the four pillars are present and how you can gather information on them or how they can be strengthened, I think that would provide very deep insight into how you can build your own climate solutions reporting. So Fara will now take you through the Berlin story.
Fara Warner: Thank you, Swati. And as you read these stories on your own and dig through the climate solutions reporting guide, I love what Swati said is to kind of take this interrogation into the stories and ask yourself, can you find the response? Can you find the evidence? Can you find the impact? Can you find the limitations? There are no perfect stories either. As we all know as producers of this work, there are just no perfect stories. But what we are looking for is really giving our audiences and communities the kind of information and knowledge that they need to catalyze and move them forward in this climate crisis and be there along with them.
I’m going to take you through this story. This comes from Germany. So very different place than Liberia obviously. And as Swati pointed out both of these stories are relatively short. They’re done not as big projects, not as big investigations, solutions investigations, but in fact they’re probably done on somebody’s beat and not taking up a lot of time. So this one is about mitigation and the important thing that we need to focus on, which is decreasing the amount of global warming and importantly the reduction of fossil fuel use. So this is a look at a three month experiment and somebody had asked from the chat, what if something is sort of still in research and development or in pilot phase? And this is a really good opportunity to look at something that is a pilot and ask yourself, what if this was then replicated? And so we want to make sure pilots are okay, but they always need to show evidence of effectiveness and they really need to be focused on the limitations. But you can always pull in the insight, which is to say this is only a pilot. So in this story, the lead was Germany’s three month experiment with tickets that only cost nine pounds. Unlimited travel across all regional train networks, trams, and buses saved about 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. It has been claimed. And I really like this parenthetical phrase right at the end. We can always make sure that people understand that the evidence that we are gathering comes from someplace and we always need to source that evidence so our communities and audiences can go back and say, “Is that right,” and also for us as journalists to do some third-party verification of that.
So taking apart this story, so the response here was simple. Cut fuel consumption. That was what it was about. But also, they wanted to address issues of inflation as well. But at its core, the response was around cutting fuel consumption. How did they do it? They just made train tickets less expensive, and importantly, they made them easier to buy. So it used to be, and I guess now back in Germany, is every zone had a different price. Every region had a different price, and they decided to do away with that for three months. They made train tickets just nine pounds and easier to buy. One ticket allowed you to go anywhere. And so that drew more people to public transportation because it made it easy to understand. It reached the intended target audience. This was the evidence that I think was really important. While the number around the reduction of carbon dioxide was in the lead and important in the headline, the evidence that I pulled out was that it reached the intended target audience. They sold 52 million tickets, one-fifth of them to people who don’t normally use public transportation. So that’s saying we’re taking people who generally would drive someplace and use their internal combustion engine cars. They’re not. They’re taking public transportation. The insight here was that it made climate solutions be simple and affordable. This is one of the things that we do see in climate solutions, and some of the backlash against solutions is, well, I’m going to have to give up something. I’m going to have to lose something for this solution. I’m going to have to give up my car. I’m going to have to give up. And so even in covering climate solutions, in maintaining that concept of what we call constructive hope is that we want to make sure that we point out insights where we’re making sure that people understand this is a solution that a lot of people could buy into. And they didn’t focus solely on the environmental aspects, but they also just decided let’s take the complexity out of it.
Now, the limitation in this is a big one. It’s a pilot. It only existed for three months. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a solutions story, it is a very good solutions story. But the limitation is, and as the journalist pointed out, it might be difficult to make permanent because it costs money. It costs the government money to provide what was a subsidy, basically. People talked about over overcrowded trains and not being able to bring your bikes on. So there also could have been resistance from community. And then finally, I do think that the carbon dioxide claim needed to be verified more. I would’ve liked to see third-party verification of that in that story. So those are our two four pillar stories. Normally, we do this in a breakout brainstorm. And I know we’re going to drop a link in the chat a little bit later. You can feel free to fill out our training and collaboration form, and we’re happy to do brainstorming anytime with you. All right. So, Swati, I’m going to let you take this one.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Yeah, thanks, Fara. So we often get asked, “Okay, you are talking about solutions journalism. So what do we do? We only do solutions journalism?” And the answer is, of course, no. Solutions journalism is part of the domain, and it has its particular users. We also need traditional journalism to cover the problems that we face, and solutions journalism come somewhere in that phase. It comes after a certain level of awareness has been created among the audience regarding the problems. So this flowchart here, it explains when you do solutions journalism. We ask the question that, is this problem well-known? Are my audiences aware of this particular problem? Are they aware of the hazards that it causes, the public health failures that these issues are causing? So if the answer is yes, yes, the audience is aware and they’re bored of it, we don’t want to hear more of it, then we talk about solutions. We try to find, identify, locate, what people are doing in response to these problems. So solutions journalism has its own phase in this whole circular journalism area, if I can say that. So for example, if we are trying to write a story on lead poisoning or, say, construction and demolition risk, which is becoming a huge problem in countries like India, and we are not exactly aware of it, it’s a hazard. We don’t like it, but we don’t know what to do about it. Or that causes health problems is not something hanging very visibly in our consciousness. So when these kind of issues come up, we have to find out if we have spoken enough about what it is and how it is harming us. So once that is in place, we can go to solutions journalism and cover those stories that people are doing to tackle those. Fara, you want to add something here?
Fara Warner: No, Swati. I think you covered it well. We talk about the whole story at SJN always because we don’t want journalists to say, “Oh, I should just do solutions journalism all the time.” No, you do solutions journalism as a part of your coverage. And I know we’re getting close to time, and there are a ton of questions in the chat. So I’m going to move on quickly to a couple of things, which is in short, the way we like to think about it is by telling the whole story in our news coverage of the climate crisis it is in itself an essential climate solution. As Katharine Hayhoe, who’s one of my favorite climate scientists, says, one of the most important things that you can do to deal with the climate crisis is to talk about it. And we are the conduit in the media in talking about it.
I know that there were a couple of questions in the chat around the words that I used around extractive and transactional. So this is the way I think about how we transform journalism and particularly transform climate solutions, the way that we cover climate. I’d like us to move from being so problem-focused to being solutions-based. Not that every story that you do will be a solutions story, but a writer that I’ve worked with a number of times, she said she has a solutions widget in her brain. So every story that she goes into, she thinks, hm, there might be a solutions story that I’m coming back to. We need to move from deficit frames, in which we are consistently looking at the deficits or victimizing the people who are affected by the climate crisis, to really dive deep into strengths-based narratives and ground ourselves in what the community needs and wants from us. There is a question in the chat around, what are the communities that we need to most focus on? That is up to each and every one of you to determine. Your audiences are different. Your communities are different. Get out and talk to them. Spend time with them. Instead of trying to come up with stories just out of thin air or the press releases that you get across your email, get out and talk to the community. What do they want you to cover? Where do they want you to spend time? What are the solutions that are important to them, and what are the problems that they’re engaged with? And this goes to my fourth point, is we need to move as a media industry from disconnection from our community to journalism that connects with and catalyzes communities. And I know that isn’t always easy. We have a lot to do every single day. And as we begin to end and before I turn it back over to Mark, I know this is something that I deal with on a daily basis as I’m coaching people, is I know that we are all facing this same climate crisis together. But I think solutions journalism can also help us in the journalism industry to say, “I’m just not going to keep writing the same depressing story over and over again.” And so with that, I’m going to turn it over to Mark, who’s going to lead us in some questions. And, Mark, I’m assuming, let’s bring off the screen share, and then we’ll go from there.
Mark Hertsgaard: That’s right. Thank you so much, Fara. Thank you so much Swati, and a special thank you to Swati, who is joining us from India where it is late in the evening. So thank you for staying up to be with us.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: A pleasure.
Mark Hertsgaard: There are so many people here, and we’ve had so many questions. And I’m just going to preface this final Q&A, the last 20 minutes here, by saying that we’re not going to be able to get to all the questions. So please know a couple things. One, look at the Climate Solutions Guide that we’ve just posted. Karen Kamp, my colleague, has put it here on the chat, but it’s also on our website. That will help with a lot of your questions. Also, Swati and Fara are always available for direct consultations with you or your newsroom. And in particular, they have another session coming up on February 8th that is, as I understand it, open to all comers. Journalists only, please. And you can sign up for that at the Solutions Journalism Network website. And probably momentarily in the chat, there will be a sign-up for that as well.
And I’m going to start with a couple of questions. Our dear colleague at NPR, Neela Banerjee, put a very, I thought, provocative and insightful comment in the chat saying that attacks on climate solutions are the new climate denial. And I think you can see that in the current hubbub around the notion of gas stoves, which has gotten a lot of people on the political right in the United States very, very upset. Really a tempest in a teapot since, contrary to which you may have heard, the government is not preparing to come and ban your stove. But Fara and Swati, I wonder if you could just speak to that general concept for a second. We may be moving into a new phase in the climate story where the shift of the climate deniers has gone. They can no longer get away with denying the science, and so now they’re trying to say that the solutions aren’t going to work. And if they can keep dumping enough doubt on solutions, they can continue to hold onto the current paradigm of fossil fuels, which, of course, will roast the planet. At Solutions Journalism Network, have you considered this, and how can journalists deal with that dynamic?
Fara Warner: Swati, do you want to take this on? I know it’s become such a thing with stoves in the US. But Swati, do you want to take it first? And then I’ll-
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Yes, I’d definitely love to hear from you, but maybe I’ll just… The reason I wanted to take up the Liberia example was also to show that communities like that exist. It’s not that we have on the globe all the privileges everywhere. There are communities where whatever they’re trying to do from one to two to three to four, that works. That’s a solution for us, and it’ll help us to get there. We understand the problem. The third-world countries understand the problem. Getting to now solutions, that’s a very important way to analyze the stories that we have, analyze the solutions that we have. Now, when we have these four pillars in place, when we analyze these four pillars, it helps us to point out, as you mentioned, Fara, when it is failing, when the solutions are just being dumped on us and we are being misguided in our thoughts. So when we measure the impacts, when we try to record the limitations, it help us to show what is greenwashing and what is not. So that’s one thing I would like to point out. So basically, we have different kinds of communities, different kinds of situations with people. And, of course, for solutions, we have to go through those four pillars to ensure that we are not going in the wrong direction, we are not being misguided. Fara, to you.
Fara Warner: Yeah. So And I’ll take the gas stove question straight on. I think now we’re starting to write stories about people about is it a right issue; is it a left issue; is it a conservative issue; is it a progressive issue? And it drives us away from what does our community and our audience want from us? When thinking about stories around climate solutions, those are the people that I keep in mind. Politicians the whole swirl around that it’s easy for us to get dragged away and put into a place where now we’re covering the argument as opposed to covering the solution. And I think it’s important to keep coming back to that. But I would absolutely say this is a way for climate-deniers, and there are many words that we use around climate denial, that want to divert our attention as journalists. And we have to be very clear in not allowing our attention to be diverted. I think the number of stories that I’ve read about the gas stoves, as a person who has a gas stove, I now understand the problem. And I understand what the solution is. So for me, I’m stopping caring about what the politicians are saying, and I’m going to make those choices for myself. And I think that that’s the important thing for me. But I know that it’s not easy right now because there are lots of solutions that are under fire as a number of people have put into the chat.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks, Fara. I’d like to now switch to a question from our colleague Marie Cusick of the PBS NewsHour picking up on a theme that is here in the thread that has gotten a number of people talking about it. Basically, the question of the psychology, the mass psychology really, of solutions reporting. I’m going to paraphrase what a number of people have said, including Marie. How much has the Solutions Journalism Network worked with social scientists to talk about speaking about climate solutions in a way that the public can hear? Not just the doom and gloom aspect of it, which people have talked about, but also just the sheer amount of information that is coming at people all the time, making sure that our messages pierce that static, I guess, is the question.
Fara Warner: Yeah, it’s a great question, and it is my goal this year for us to start doing some research around how well climate solutions stories pierce, that get into audiences, and either catalyze them, change them. We do need more academic research around that. If anybody’s interested in joining me, it is one of my goals. But from Solutions Journalism Network, outside of framed within climate solutions, we have had research done that shows, and I’m happy to send the links along later, working with SmithGeiger, particularly in television, commercial television, we asked audiences to view stories. What we found was that people believed the solutions stories far more, and trusted in the solutions stories far more than they did the problem-focused stories. They found constructive hope in those stories, and they felt as if they had been heard, and that they themselves felt like they could make a difference, that they saw themselves in the stories. So what I’d like to do is, and it’s a great question and we do have research around it, but again, in terms of climate solutions, it’s something that I’ve been speaking with a couple of my colleagues in other networks, particularly in Europe, around we need more research on this topic.
Mark Hertsgaard: Let me shift now t a question. We touched on pilotitis, great phrase by the way, pilotitis, earlier. But I want to dig down a little bit. There’s, I think, an interesting question from Steven Kent who says, “I work on greenhouse gas reduction including methane removal,” and for those who don’t know, methane is a very, very harmful greenhouse gas. Not as ubiquitous as carbon dioxide, but far more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is. An essential part of getting mitigation under control is removing methane from the atmosphere. So GGR, or greenhouse gas reduction and methane removal, Steven Kent writes, “Is mostly in the R&D phase, only a few pilot programs, and for methane removal, it is critical,” he says this from an NGO standpoint but, “It is critical to educate audiences, both the public and policy makers about the need to reduce methane and the need to extract carbon out of the atmosphere.” How does that fit into a Solutions Journalism framework, the idea that we’ve got to educate people about what is really a paradigm shift in their understanding of climate change? Usually, we think that mitigation or turning down the heat means reducing the amount of emissions, which it does. We have to absolutely slash the emissions. We have to absolutely phase out oil and gas as soon as possible, but at this point, because the concentrations in the atmosphere are now over 420 parts per million, we also need to get carbon dioxide and methane out of the atmosphere. How does that educational need, both for public and policy makers, can a Solutions Journalism Network approach to climate solutions reporting, can it address that issue?
Fara Warner: Swati, do you want to jump in, and then I’ll follow up?
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Yeah, sure. I was just thinking about a story published by one of the teams that I work with, a small newsroom in Europe. I’ll take another example. They were trying to cover lab meat and how it can be a solution for reducing methane in the atmosphere. That’s one of the problems, of course. Lab meat, countries do not have permission, except Singapore. Nobody can buy or access lab meat openly. Those are still in various processes of getting approval, experiments like that. This particular story, I’ll try to find it and post it in the chat box. He did the story so well with solutions focus, it’s in the pilot. The only case study we had was of Singapore, and that too, couldn’t be borrowed directly from that. That’s an classic example of what he did with creating awareness, telling us what lab meat is, how it is made, and where all the questions are coming up, and how it can solve the problem. We have those four pillars. He has tried to pull in all those four pillars in there, while explaining everything anybody wants to know about lab meat. Yes, Fara, you can take it from there.
Fara Warner: Yeah, I think as we said, pilots are okay, R&D is okay, particularly if you point out the limitations. I think with the pilots, it would just be how much evidence of effectiveness are we seeing? And being clear in the story or the produced work, the video, the audio that you’re doing, is that this is a pilot, that it’s still in R&D phase, but it can still work as a solutions piece. One thing I will say, here at Solutions Journalism Network, we will be launching in February and March three trainings around carbon removal and carbon removal trainings, and how to cover that CDR, carbon dioxide removal. We’re not focused on methane yet, but we certainly can come back with a training. But how to actually cover that solution effectively, because we do know we actually have to capture carbon out of the air now. We can’t continue to live with this much carbon in the atmosphere. Those trainings, I’ll make sure that Covering Climate Now has access to those links when we are ready to take signups. Thanks for the question.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thanks, Fara. I’m going to take the prerogative of the chair here and ask a question of my own that, you’ll know from our previous conversations, that I feel like, and we put this in our solutions guide, that we need to remember that climate solutions are not just technologies. It’s not just methane removal. It’s not just EVs. It’s not just gas stoves, but rather arguably, the most important climate solution that we’ve really been lacking over the 30 years that this has been an issue, has been the political will to do what’s needed. We have had the technologies, folks. We’ve had 95% of the technologies we needed, and had we acted back 30 years ago when this was first on the global agenda, had governments acted, I should say, we wouldn’t be in this situation today. Things like voting, things like protesting in the streets, things like lobbying your legislators, those are climate solutions. How does a climate solutions reporting framework approach that? Can you give just some general comments to some of the journalists on the line here?
Fara Warner: Sure. I’m going to take a specific example, actually. In Covering Climate Now as a partner with us in our Climate Beacon Newsroom initiative, so we’re working with nine newsrooms over the next nine months to really transform their coverage. One of those newsrooms is The Reader from Omaha, Nebraska, and their whole focus is looking at Omaha as a city which has no climate action plan, being in a state that has really no climate action plan either, and beginning to look at what is possible for a community to request and require of their city that they have a climate action plan.
Some of the stories that they’re already looking at is, “Well, other cities do it,” and, “Hey, wait a minute, Lincoln, Nebraska just an hour away has a really solid climate action plan. How did they get it started? How did they get it moved through?” One really good way of, I think, doing these political and politics and government stories is to do what we call comparative stories, which is to look at another community that is like yours and say, “How did they do that? How did they effectively get climate legislation on the docket? How did they get it passed?”
In terms of activism, activism absolutely can be covered as a solution. What we’re looking for is systemic change over time for very specific communities that are affected. We’re not doing hero-worship and looking at a single activist. We’re actually looking at the system that the activism is seeking to change. I absolutely agree with you, Mark and others who have asked these questions in the chat, political will is the hardest thing that we’ve … Behavior change and political will, and there are solutions around that and things that we can be pushing on. That’s why I’m so happy that we have that as a section in our guide. Swati, I’d love to hear from your perspective in India as well on this topic.
Swati Sanyal Tarafdar: Fara, I think in India we have to do a lot more Solutions Journalism stories coverage to get to that level. What we can say, what I can say, something I’m very inspired with from SJN, and again, it is the Complicating the Narrative program that you have, the conversation there, the perspective there is so useful when we talk about, again, if we come to the political will, and climate denying, and everything that is going against the flow now. That helps a lot, to change the way we speak about things that create some kind of a discord. That’s probably something we should explore.
Mark Hertsgaard: Okay, we are two minutes from ending here, and at Covering Climate Now, we make a point of always ending on time, so that we respect your time and everyone’s time involved. I will just say as we close, thank you to both of our tremendous colleagues for a really eye-opening conversation today. I will remind everyone, please check out the Climate Solutions Guide that Covering Climate Now and the Solutions Journalism Network have put together. It’s on our site, CoveringClimateNow.org. I assume it’s on their site as well.
Don’t miss the February 8th seminar that Solutions Journalism Network is putting on. Again, if you want a deeper dive in how to do climate solutions reporting, go to their session on February 8th. It is free just like this one, and I would also urge you to look at the Covering Climate Now newsletter. It just went out this morning. That also is free. You can go to our website and sign up for that. Speaking of climate denial, that’s our story today about how the Exxon News story is finally going mainstream. The rest of the media is finally picking up on what some of us have been talking about for more than eight years now, including Neela Banerjee, by the way, who I referenced earlier in this call, who’s now at NPR, but was part of that reporting team at Inside Climate News in 2015 that first broke the story that Exxon scientists knew a long time ago that they were going to burn the planet, and they went ahead and did it anyway.
That reminds us of some of the themes and responsibilities that we as journalists have to bring the truth to the public, so that the public can in turn decide what it wants to do about it. We thank all of you for being part of this. There will be a video recording sent to each one of you, and hopefully a transcript as well. In the meantime, we hope you’ll stay in touch with us, with the Solutions Journalism Network and we’ll see you down the road. In the meantime, I’m Mark Hertsgaard for Covering Climate Now, wishing you all a very pleasant day.