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How solutions based journalism can drive global climate action

21 August 2014
How solutions based journalism can drive global climate action

NEW YORK: News articles which focus on the positive solutions to societal issues are more likely to attract greater engagement from readers, separate studies from the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania have confirmed.

The Engaging News Project which is based at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas recently released a report which found that articles which offer readers information on problem mitigation are perceived as more interesting and informative than those which merely describe the bleak reality.

By examining coverage of three different negative news stories - the effects of traumatic experiences on children in American schools; homelessness in urban America; and a lack of clothing among poor people in India – the analysts were able to prove that stories which not only report the specific problem, but also looked at potential solutions to societal issues have a greater impact on readers. In addition, after reading the solutions article, the test audience reported feeling more optimistic and expressed a desire to share and discuss it with their friends and families.

“This study reinforces what we’ve seen anecdotally in our work with dozens of newsrooms,” elaborated Keith Hammonds Co-author and COO of the Solutions Journalism Network.

“There appears to be a significant engagement gap between stories that only tell us what’s wrong and those that include evidence-based reporting on attempts to fix what’s wrong. Many readers respond in powerful ways to quality journalism about what’s working."

In fact, the research revealed that solutions readers were then more likely to indicate a willingness to get involved in working toward a solution or donate money to organizations which deliver solutions.

Similarly, a study published by the University of Pennsylvania found those news articles which are overtly negative in tone leave readers feeling hopeless and apathetic. However, when the same sample group were given articles which ended on a positive note, the participants felt energized and engaged.

“Articles with a constructive peak midway and a hopeful ending was deemed good reporting and left readers feeling informed, Cathrine Gyldensted author of the study recently wrote in a Guardian op-ed.

“The data overall suggested that readers of the more positive article were left with more energy to engage and take action.”

When taken together these two studies affirm the need for a greater emphasis on the positive opportunities associated with the low carbon economy. Communicating climate change has typically relied on negative scare tactics, a strategy which can prove counter-productive according to Eduardo Gonçalves, International Communications Director at The Climate Group: “Crisis fatigue is often confused for apathy. But public opinion is actually very concerned about climate change. The difference is that people want to hear what the plan is, rather than repeatedly be told about the negative impacts.”

“Policymakers and business leaders, in particular, want to be in a position where they can discuss action in Cabinet and board meetings. They have moved on from the scientific debate. They want to hear about win-win solutions from people with answers.”

Given the massive body of evidence around the economic and business benefits of transitioning to a low carbon economy, it is now easier than ever to provide practical solutions to climate change. From the influential CDP white paper which highlighted the advantages of a carbon price, to the Accenture report advocating a cohesive EU renewable energy system to achieve annual savings of €20 billion, the case for the clean revolution is clearer than ever.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres too, has highlighted the importance of sharing the clear business-case for a low carbon economy through narrative to enact action, stating: "It’s critically important to share positive stories about climate action because it inspires others to take similar steps, which, in turn, can provide deeper support for political leaders to legislate change and for business leaders to go green. It’s like a snowball building upon itself as it rolls down a hill, growing larger and picking up momentum as it goes."

The Climate Group's Eduardo Gonçalves affirmed: “It’s a sector [the low carbon economy] that’s been outperforming the rest of the economy for a number of years. The returns on investment are now such that – irrespective of differing views on moral imperatives of climate action – it’s simply the smart business move”

“At The Climate Group, we focus on communicating the positive options, and back it up with robust evidence that makes sense to decision-makers. It’s one of the reasons why we’re seen as the trusted ‘go to’ people by a lot of governments and companies.” 

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By Alana Ryan

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