Reporting Climate Change to the Developing World

11/22/2010 03:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • James Fahn Executive Director of the Internews Earth Journalism Network

Al Gore correctly identified a problem in his Huffington Post commentary, "The Media Has Failed in Covering the Climate Crisis." As someone who is on the front lines of encouraging better reporting, I agree with Gore that more needs to be done but I also offer some reasons for hope.

The former US Vice-President cites a new report from Oxford University's Reuters Institution for the Study of Journalism that found less than 10 percent of the news articles written about last year's climate summit in Copenhagen dealt primarily with the science of climate change.

We do need more science in our reporting. We also need more journalists covering the issue the world over. Internews, a nonprofit media development organization for which I work, is tackling this in two ways.

First, we are making sure that journalists from the developing world are able to attend these conferences and report back to their home audiences. That's why, for the fourth year in a row, Internews, along with partner organizations Panos and the International Institute for Environment and Development will bring the largest media delegation to Cancun-bigger than CNN, bigger than the BBC, bigger than any wire service. This year, the delegation hails from 29 countries.

Many of these professionals make up what I have called "the reporters with the most to lose." That's because their audiences tend to literally live closer to nature, and thus feel the effects of change most acutely. In the US and other developed countries, our wealth allows most of us to withstand and adapt to climate change, at least for now. In Burma it can mean a storm wiping out hundreds of low-lying villages and killing thousands of people in a matter of a few hours.

At the same time, this year there is also a new twist that also speaks to Gore's concern: This delegation features, for the first time ever, ten US journalists. These are reporters who otherwise would not have been able to report from Cancun because of shrinking newsroom budgets in America.

The second action required is training. That's why Internews unveiled this week a free online toolkit, to go along with a free online course we unveiled last year, available to anyone in the world: from veteran science writers to casual bloggers. These unique resources can be accessed at any desired pace, anytime, anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Today, the story of climate change is no longer owned by journalists on science and environmental beats. It affects politics, international affairs, technology, finance and business, health and more. That's why this course was created -- to give non-expert reporters and citizen journalists a firm grounding in the science and policy underlying climate change.

Last year's delegation of reporters co-sponsored by Internews generated 500 stories on the conference that otherwise would not have been seen or heard by audiences in the developing world. This year, hundreds of millions of people across the world will again receive daily updates on the latest international efforts to tackle climate change as part of this delegation. If anyone wants to see how the science in their reporting stacks up, they will all be available for viewing.