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Climate change and publishing: How can we best address readers’ needs?

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A significant percentage of people across the world are concerned about climate change and consume related news and information. The latest Reuters study on the topic sheds light on how news publishers fare with respect to other sources of information, and the gaps they can address to engage readers further. 

The majority of the respondents (81% in the UK and 75% in the USA), to a multi-country Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism survey, say that they are either ‘somewhat’, ‘very’, or ‘extremely’ worried about the impact of climate change. Nearly half reported engaging with climate change news or information in the past week. Although less engaged users do not come across such information as frequently, only a very tiny proportion report never seeing it.  

The report, How We Follow Climate Change, is based on an online survey conducted in August and September 2022. It seeks to document and understand how people in eight countries – Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, the UK, and the USA – access news and information about climate change.

“News media are clearly playing an important role”

Nearly a third of the respondents say that they get news and information about climate change from television. About the same proportion report having used various online news sources like news sites, as well as platforms, including social media or messaging apps. Overall, half of the respondents trust news media as a source of news and information about climate change.

When we look at where people are getting news and information about climate change, the news media are clearly playing an important role.

How We Follow Climate Change, Reuters Institute

The preferred media format varies by age as well. 48% of those over 55 prefer television for climate news. Older age groups also rely on newspapers and radio. Those under 35 are more likely to update themselves via social media and messaging apps. However, online access is equally popular among all age groups. 

“These patterns largely mirror those for news in general that we see in the Digital News Report," the authors note, “where, for news in general, as for news and information about climate change specifically, young people consume less, and have a greater preference for online sources, than older age groups.”

When asked to rate the trustworthiness of different sources, people place scientists and official international institutions at the top. News media lies in the middle of the range followed by environmental activists, charities, and governments. 

On average across the eight countries covered, about half of respondents say they trust news media as a source of news and information about climate change.

How We Follow Climate Change, Reuters Institute

“Broadly similar patterns across countries”

“Climate change news clearly elicits both positive and negative emotions, with broadly similar patterns across countries,” the authors write. When asked about how climate change news makes them feel, the emotional response states chosen frequently by respondents include concerned (63%), worried (61%), informed (59%), or alarmed (57%). 

Despite widespread recognition and concern about the threat of climate change, many respondents always/often actively avoid such news. Selective climate news avoidance ranges from 10% in Japan to 41% in India. Common reasons quoted have to do with exhaustion (e.g. ‘worn out’, ‘too much’), limited value (‘nothing new’, ‘nothing I can do’), and anxiety (‘negative effect on my mood’), according to the survey.

Significant proportions of the respondents in every country report being concerned about misinformation. Many say they have come across what they believe to be false or misleading information about climate. Television and online media (including social media and messaging apps) are among the most frequently cited carriers of misinformation. 

Whereas people in some countries rely more on television for news about climate change, people generally are slightly more likely to associate false information with online use, and within that, social media use.

How We Follow Climate Change, Reuters Institute

37% of the respondents think that news media is doing too little to address climate change, However, more people think the same about politicians or political parties and citizens (48%), government (46%), energy companies (44%) and celebrities (39%). 

“Chance to stand out”

A sizable proportion of the respondents across the different countries agree that news and information about climate change makes them feel empowered in several ways. 49% of the respondents from UK and 51% from the US say that it motivates them to seek more information. Similar proportions agree that climate change news gives them accurate information and helps them know what to do about it.

“Our research suggests that across eight very different countries, on average about half the respondents in the countries covered feel reasonably well served by how news media deal with climate,” the authors write. “They follow the coverage regularly, many of them trust news coverage of the topic (certainly more than they trust energy companies and politicians), and they feel that the coverage empowers them in many ways.”

Even those who do not engage regularly, say that they get accurate information about climate change from news which helps them understand what to do about it. However, there is a significant share of such people who find climate change news and information confusing and irrelevant. 

If news media can address or overcome these concerns, they have a chance to stand out against a dark backdrop of widespread concern over whether the information people come across (whether online or offline) is false or misleading, especially as many are skeptical of political actors.

How We Follow Climate Change, Reuters Institute

The full report is available at Reuters Institute:
How We Follow Climate Change