One of the things that comes with being a communications director at any organization, including here at 350.org, is the requirement that you complain about the media.
Almost all “comms” people, myself included, are excessive news junkies. We can’t go much more than a few minutes without checking some medium: twitter, TV, the New York Times website, Vox, or just wandering the office annoying colleagues with questions like, “anything happen today? Like anything of interest?”
And in all that coverage, we find plenty of things to complain about. This outlet misquoted us. This radio station is downplaying the emissions of Keystone XL again. This newspaper has cut their environment desk. This TV station (ok, mostly Fox) has a climate denier on.
To be fair, the mainstream media has overall done a rather awful job of covering climate change, especially here in the United States. With its long time frame, complicated science, and distinct lack of celebrities, climate doesn’t fit into the “if it bleeds, it leads” culture that still dominates most newsrooms.
Which is why it is so refreshing, and rather extraordinary, to be part of our new “Keep it in the ground” partnership with The Guardian, a UK based outlet with a global readership. The Guardian was already one of the most respected news outlets around the world, and had a tremendous environmental team, but over the last month, they’ve gone above and beyond the responsibilities of a regular media outlet and partnered with 350.org to support the growing fossil fuel divestment movement.
Today, the Guardian Media Group took an additional step and divested its £800m fund from fossil fuels. (The paper’s editorial coverage is separate from their business operations, so this took some internal convincing.)
Not surprisingly, the Guardian has done an excellent job explaining why it is getting involved in the divestment fight and how it is working to make climate coverage a priority. It’s also explored, in podcasts and editorials, how its advocacy and journalism go together, a topic that other outlets, like Mashable, have explored as well. It makes for fascinating reading (or listening).
The Guardian’s involvement in the divestment campaign is certainly unique, but it’s not completely unprecedented. As Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, pointed out in today’s paper, “I think at pivotal moments in history we have seen editors and media outlets stand up and take unprecedented action. One could think of the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement in the US and I liken the Guardian’s campaign to that kind of courageous action.”
We’ll surely have much more debate (and complaining) about the role the media must play in the fight against climate change. By taking such bold leadership, the Guardian has helped raise the bar, or at least a series of questions, for other outlets. How can advocacy and journalism mix? What responsibility does the media have to take up difficult issues like climate change? Is balanced coverage actually fair when the vast majority of scientists are demanding action and only a handful of fossil fuel companies stand in the way of progress?
At 350.org, the partnership has also raised interesting questions for us. How can we better use storytelling to supercharge our campaigns? Is media coverage a goal unto itself or just a strategy to influence policy makers? How can we make sure that we get new voices into the media? How do we balance the desire to get “mainstream” coverage with the need to create new platforms where people can tell their own stories? What are the stories that need to be told?
We’re excited to explore all these topics and more over the months and years ahead. In the meantime, we’ll be sprinting ahead with the Guardian and a whole host of other partners to push the fossil fuel divestment movement forward…and keep making headlines.