Green media briefing: a look back at the World News Media Congress

A graphic with the World News Media Congress 2021 logo on and the words 'After COP26 – what’s next for ‘green media’?'

Green media briefing – a look back at the World News Media Congress

We were delighted to host Meera Selva, Deputy Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Pierre Petillault, Director of the alliance of French publishers, Alliance Presse, and Markus Ahlberg, Head of Sustainable Business Development at Schibsted, at December’s World News Media Congress.

We convened these speakers to consider both the ‘footprint’ of the news media, and its so-called ‘brainprint’, or its power to influence people, and the connection between the two at our GAMI event After COP26 – what’s next for ‘green media’?.

This is the topic of a PhD being supported by WAN-IFRA at the University of Central Lancashire and this post is part of an ongoing series of GAMI ‘green media’ briefings.

Greening journalism

Meera Selva introduced us to the University of Oxford’s new Climate Journalism Network, which launched in 2021 to bring together reporters and editors from across the world, and across the newsroom, to work on this issue.

She suggested that covering the environment is “becoming what digital journalism was in many ways to newsrooms, something that needs to fundamentally influence every aspect of the newsroom… something that influences all reporting”.

“Most news organisations are now setting up ‘climate desks’,” she said, while highlighting that many still aren’t sure how these should fit, in terms of where stories are placed and who produces them.

Referencing the Reuters Digital News Report 2019, Selva highlighted the continued power of TV to reach people on serious issues, even young audiences, along with a greater role for influencers and visual journalism.

She said she saw potential changes in the narrative after COP26, particularly on the negatives of fossil fuels and the need to hear indigenous people’s voices. As this is a cross-border issue, she suggested newsrooms should foster international collaborations, like those already coordinated for large-scale financial investigations.

While emphasising the need to hold decision-makers to account, including on any targets they set, she said there is also room for stories that give agency to individuals to change their own behaviour.

Newsrooms must also get on top of the science of “attribution”, she urged, if journalism is to help tackle misinformation:

“When is it reasonable and acceptable to attribute extreme weather events and other events to climate change?…  [it’s about] how to convey the uncertainty scientists have in a rapidly changing environment… if you said something this week and you say something slightly different next week, you weren’t wrong… you were just reporting on what you knew at the time.”

Greening organisations

Markus Ahlberg told us why and how Nordic media giant Schibsted has led the way on greening its own operations.

This isn’t about “communicating sustainability and feeling good about sustainability”, he said, “we walk the talk, because, given the business we are acting within, it’s crucial for our trust and transparency that we do what we expect others to do as well”.

“One important thing when talking about sustainability is to treat it like an innovation perspective, it’s about the future,” he added. Schibsted has, for example, embraced machine-learning technologies to minimise waste in its operations and to optimise distribution. He also emphasised the cost savings that can be made when organisations go green.

One thing he said remains a challenge is the “immature area” of carbon accounting. Schibsted joined a University of Bristol project to try to measure the carbon footprint of digital media, from production to consumption, and has set its own science-based target in line with the Paris Agreement, but he emphasised this is about more than carbon emissions.

As Selva emphasised when considering how newsrooms may work together on this international, intergenerational issue, Ahlberg said that Schibsted is keen to ensure:

“cooperation in our country’s [emissions] mapping and to share insights with our peers, because together we can solve this and we can make it make it happen – the transformation to a low carbon society”.

Greening industries

Pierre Petillault joined the conversation to tell us how and why his 300-strong membership of high-quality publishers in France are using the advertising side of their businesses to create change.

But he started by highlighting the environmental impact of publishing itself – “press is different from other media in terms of footprint because we are basically the only ones that are not intangible. We are bricks and mortar compared to TV, radio and online news…. And basically that means that we are putting a lot of waste on the market”.

Already, he explained, the Alliance Presse membership funds an organisation called CITEO, with upwards of €22 million per year, to get people recycling via ads run within publications. Publishers here are legally required to stop using plastic covers, starting in 2022, stop using mineral inks beginning in 2023 and gradually raise the rates of recycled paper, he explained.

Because the ‘information press’ receives subsidy from government it has “additional commitments in terms of the environment” than other companies, Petillault added.

The four-point plan includes industry-wide checks on environmental claims made in ads, training for ad executives, creating a better understanding of the impact of environmental reporting and an award for good environmental work in the industry.

Like Ahlberg, Petillault called for more consistent environmental measures across the news media:

“in order to be accountable in front of the public and the lawmakers”.

Watch the full conversation here:

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