‘Climate change is a local story’

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By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

David Boraks“I’m realizing that climate change stories are not separate,” David Boraks told me this week. “Everything is a climate story. Everything we do that affects the environment is a climate story.”

North Carolina newsrooms are also realizing that covering climate now means dedicating real resources to the task.

Boraks, at WFAE in Charlotte, is one of three reporters at legacy news organizations in North Carolina who now have a full-time climate beat funded by philanthropy. (There were none a year ago; there will be four soon when the Winston-Salem Journal hires one.)

Boraks was already reporting on environmental issues when he assumed the full-time climate beat this summer, funded by the Salamander and 1Earth funds. Adam Wagner reports on climate change and the environment for the state’s McClatchy newsrooms, financed by 1Earth Fund in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. Gareth McGrath, based in Wilmington, covers the same topics for the Star News and the USA TODAY network in the state, in a position financed by ​​1Earth Fund and The Prentice Foundation. The Journal position, which will support all of the Lee newsrooms in the state, will be funded through an agreement with JFP, as I reported here last week. In each case, the newsrooms have full editorial control over the reporting.

“What’s happening in North Carolina is the localization of the climate story,” Boraks told me. “And by that I mean, there’s so much news out there that’s coming out about UN reports and national-level policies, and that lets people think about this as a story somewhere else. And when we local reporters do stories in your own backyard that show either climate change is happening, or there are policies that are changing here, there’s money that we’re spending — I think the goal is to get people to understand that climate change is a local story. It’s happening here, and it is something that they need to worry about.”

The changes present a bit of incongruity, though. The increased awareness is leading to creation of those dedicated beats — but, as Boraks said, climate change is too big now for one reporter per newsroom. It touches every beat.

“Still, I don’t think we’re very far along yet where we have reporters on other beats really looking for climate stories,” he said. “So, what people can be doing is to just try to adjust their mindset, slightly, to think about how climate change impacts their beats. 

“So, for example, if you cover town government, what are they doing to adapt to climate change that’s already happening, and what are they doing to prepare and set goals for the things that will help us to stave off too much global warming? Are there adjustments in transportation fleets? Are people changing the way they think about new facilities? Are budgets changing? …

“There’s way more here than one person can get at, and so we really need everybody to be doing it.”

Numerous resources are out there to help. Just a few:

     ➵ The goal of 1Earth Fund, by the way, is “to inform communities in the U.S. Southeast about climate change causes, impacts and solutions,” its website says, and it’s open to grant proposals. Find our more here. Diogo Freire, the managing director, lives in Durham.

Some notable work

◼️ Check out Carolina Public Press’s five-part Changing Tides series, which reported last month on how climate change is affecting North Carolina’s fisheries, and the people and communities that depend on those fisheries for jobs, food and overall economic health. Jack Igelman, a contributing reporter from Asheville, reported the series, with assists from Calvin Adkins and Mark Darrough. There is also an accompanying newsletter.

Changing Tides was produced with support from the Pulitzer Center Connected Coastlines initiative, which is building a consortium of newsrooms and independent journalists to report on how climate change is affecting coastal populations.

◼️ CoastalReview.org, a nonprofit news and feature service published by the North Carolina Coastal Federation, presents daily news on the state’s coast and on climate issues, reported by professional journalists and contributors. It also does frequent special reports on key concerns.

I wasn’t able to talk with Adam Wagner or Gareth McGrath for this report, but I’ve had an eye on some of their work. 

◼️ Wagner has been busy this week reporting on a fast-moving compromise energy bill in the General Assembly, and on the effects of changing flood insurance costs. Last week he and Aaron Sánchez-Guerra reported on what experts say is needed in a heat standard for farmworkers. You can see Wagner’s collected work here.

◼️ One of McGrath’s most interesting recent stories is about how floating wetlands — basically giant yoga mats filled with plants — can help clean up waterways that are being choked by excess nutrients. He has also reported on the growing support (and public funding) for “living shorelines,” an adaptive approach to rising coastal waters. You can see his work here.

◼️ Boraks, meanwhile, also has been reporting on the implications of the energy bill and insurance rates, and he has done some intriguing work in his short time on the beat — including a report on a new mental health concern called “climate anxiety.” He also did a town hall last month to discuss what he’s learning. You may also want to revisit Asbestos Town, an ambitious project he did before taking on the climate beat. His collected work is here.

More to think about

◼️ Growing emphasis on climate reporting is a worldwide trend, a Reuters survey shows — but newsrooms need to be mindful of ethical issues.

◼️ Another Reuters report lays out three key questions newsrooms should ask themselves about environmental reporting: Who should tell this story? What should they be expected to know? And how should the story be told?

◼️ A new media strategy for selling the seriousness of the climate crisis: Humor. By Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post.

◼️ The climate emergency is here. The media needs to act like it. The Guardian.

    ➵ I’d like to share other innovative work on climate change in North Carolina. Let me know what you’re doing or seeing.