What makes forest-related topics newsworthy? How can we humanize our stories and constantly create better engagement with readers, without repeating the same story over and over?
Media plays a vital role informing about forest-related issues, especially when linked to the role forests play in climate change. However, these topics are often very complex and thus difficult to explain in detail to a general public so that they have a clear understanding of how for instance, climate change is affecting the state of forests. Furthermore, media is often attracted by specific narratives, for example the potential of forests to mitigate climate change and attempts to “sell” forests as the ultimate solution – which is too short-sighted. Thus, we need to find ways to tell stories entailing important and correct information in a way that people can relate to and empathize with. But how can we achieve that?
Discussions around these topics are tackled in our communications training series, an initiative from the European Integrate Network secretariat. In our second workshop “Engaging with Media,” taking place on 24th June 2021 as a virtual event, we learned about the many challenges faced but also solutions that scientists, journalists, politicians, and practitioners can offer when communicating about forests.
News values and humanized solutions
Even though journalists struggle making it into the headlines when writing forest-related stories that truly captivate readers, it is evident that the topic of climate change in general is increasingly covered in mainstream media. As one of our speakers, POLITICO correspondent Kalina Oroschakoff expressed, forestry-related issues have become a prominent political topic because there is a realization that people care about these topics. Therefore, forests also recently found their way into POLITICO’s reporting.
Throughout the workshop, we discussed ways to find narratives based on scientific and/or practical evidence while entertaining readers with captivating stories. Our speaker Hanno Charisius, from Süddeutsche Zeitung, discussed how he sometimes uses controversy and conflicting topics, to tell stories about forests – because controversy is likely to be picked up by readers. How many deer do you have to kill to keep forests healthy? Should we use wood to heat our apartments? He elaborated on many examples of how people can individually relate to forests. When looking at these topics from different perspectives, we can avoid a monotony in reporting about forest-related topics.
Another key factor discussed throughout the workshop is the lack of a common ground language. While scientists fear their messages will be misunderstood, environmental journalists can often feel intimidated by their lack of understanding of natural sciences. Our guest speaker, Josh Howgego from NewScientist, discussed his non-linear process of creating features, with back-and-forth communication with scientists, writers, and editors. This avoids not only misunderstandings, but also biases based on subjective world views.
Lastly, discussions focused on how media can build a bridge between science and policy-making to avoid that uninformed decisions make it into legal text without scientific support. This leads to constant frustration from all parties, but the solution lies within the basic question of the workshop: how do we communicate better with media to convey relevant forest-related information?
- Effectively, answers to this question were put into practice in our practical exercise in the final part of the workshop, where participants were encouraged to sharpen their main message. The participants were separated in two breakout groups: one facilitated by Judit Alonso (freelance journalist, e.g. working for Deutsche Welle) and Borut Tavcar from Delo (Slovenia), the other one facilitated by Bob Berwyn (freelance for Inside Climate News and Deutsche Welle) and Hanno Charisius — Autorenseite — Süddeutsche Zeitung (sueddeutsche.de).
- Among other tips, our guest speakers suggested to create narratives from people’s perspective and in a positive manner, avoid using too many numbers and jargon, be up to date with recent studies, find your own perspective, and humanize solutions!