Al Jazeera Journalism Review

outside image
Indian local reporter and YouTuber Arvind Shukla reports on flooding in northern India [Saurabh Sharma]

‘I had no idea how to report on this’ - local journalists tackling climate change stories


Local journalists are key to informing the public about the devastating dangers of climate change but, in India, a lack of knowledge, training and access to expert sources is holding them back


When Shubham Srivastava, an independent journalist from Kasganj district in Uttar Pradesh, decided to cover a story about how people in his village were living without electricity in 2022, he did not know it would turn into a story about climate change.

During the peak of summer, the village was enduring heat of up to 52 degrees celsius but the link between the extreme heat and lack of electricity had not been made. Soon, however, Srivastava’s story for a small web news outlet about the electricity shortage was picked up by more mainstream media.

“My story was only on the electricity problem in the village and my editors added the heat angle to it. I was not aware about the heatwave before this,” he says. “The story was then picked up by MIT and other outlets who added the climate change angle. The story was now on another level.

“We come from a small background and terms like ‘climate change’ reach late to us but journalists like us are now being asked to report on it,” he says. “If we are provided with training by the experts then we can bring the best of stories. Until this year I did not know about the training modules by international news organisations for freelance journalists. Unfortunately their programmes are in English language and it is a very distant dream for journalists like me.”

India climate change 1
Local journalist Shubham Srivastava reports on a crime story in Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh. 'If we are provided with training by experts, we can bring the best of climate change stories' [Saurabh Sharma]


‘We need the knowledge’

Another journalist who would like to report on climate change stories in India is Azeem Mirza. He works as a freelancer and stringer for a national news agency and says there are many stories around this issue, but he faces problems in identifying them.

“I hail from an area which is surrounded by a national wildlife sanctuary and I know there are many stories on climate change that could be done. Last year a leopard died due to the heatwave and we were not able to identify heatwave as a problem behind the death so we reported it as a straight story about a leopard death. The copy could have been something else if I had the knowledge that heatwaves are also linked to climate change,” says Mirza. 

“We understand that this is going to unfold into one of the biggest environmental crises of our times and its impact on human beings is going to be very devastating but we do not know how to report on it. Last year, there had been an unexpected rainfall in the summers and the farmers were left confused about what was happening with the weather. I discussed this problem with someone in the journalism industry and a couple of days later that story appeared in a leading portal. It was my story but I had no idea on how to report this.

“The other problem that we face is that when we talk to people in the story they expect that there will be some sort of impact but when there is nothing they do not talk to us again or share tips with us,” he adds.

Last month, a workshop on the use of data in climate change stories that I and other journalists attended found that reporters based in smaller Indian cities faced the problem in finding stories in which climate change intersects with other issues. 

Climate change stories should not be confined to only the increase or decrease of rainfall using just scientific or anecdotal evidence but should be done with full diligence finding appropriate angles to connect with their audience. 

Many stories about "climate change" did not provide any scientific backing and were only based on anecdotal evidence. “Climate change intersects with various areas like agriculture, gender issues, health and crime, so finding an intersection, linking the story with that, backing up with data and scientific evidence will make the case study stronger but unfortunately reporters in India do not get such training where they can learn these aspects.”

India climate change 2
Journalist and YouTuber Arvind Shukla talks to a local farmer about the effects of climate change on his crops. 'The lack of literacy on climate change issues is a big problem,' he says [Saurabh Sharma]


Minimal access to reliable sources

Mirza also realised that independent reporters who report from the countryside or remote areas of India do face problems in proper attribution and finding experts to talk to.

Arvind Shukla, a freelance journalist who runs his own Youtube channel called News Potli, says he believes that lack of editorial support from the mainstream media is holding freelancers back on this important beat. 

“Publications today want everything from a reporter. From data to peer-reviewed papers [as sources] but for a reporter who is based in a very remote district of India this is not possible in over 90 percent of cases and this is one of the main reasons that reporters are not taking much interest in reporting on climate change issues,” Shukla says. “If newsrooms start supporting these reporters then I am very sure that the issue of climate change would be reported by every freelancer because people have now started understanding that climate change is very real.”

Shukla adds: “The lack of literacy on climate change issues is a big problem and much work needs to be done on the ground instead of in papers, and speaking highly in climate related seminars and conferences. If we are able to equip and enable our reporters to report on climate change issues then we will be able to see the change.”


‘Training local journalists is critical’

Mayank Aggarwal, a member of The Reporters' Collective, who trains working journalists and journalism students on climate change and environmental reporting says: “It is critical that reporters working in small towns or rural areas are trained on climate change and allied issues. These reporters end up reporting on every issue in their areas whether it is agriculture, health, heat, rainfall and water, fisheries near coastal areas, energy projects including decentralised energy, forests, rural economy etc.”

Aggarwal explains that most of these subjects intersect with climate change and environmental issues, and can help to record the impact of climate change on the daily lives of people, their livelihoods or as part of the mitigation and adaptation efforts towards tackling climate change. 

India climate change 3
Flood water surrounds buildings and land in India [Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

“In such a scenario, where the impact of climate change is becoming an integral component of all kinds of stories from these areas, it becomes vital that the reporters are comprehensively trained so that they properly understand the intersection and report about the subjects they are covering,” he says.

“In the absence of such training, they are not able to fully grasp what is happening and are not able to fully explain the changes in their stories. This results in stories that are not completely comprehensive. 

“Sometimes I have come across some of my journalist friends who are either overusing climate change as a term or using it without context. The impact of such practices is that the term loses its relevance and people lose interest due to overuse.”      

Training local journalists to report accurately on climate change and to identify stories about the issue is essential, he says, because comprehensive reporting from all parts of the country will lead to a more informed audience. “An informed audience will lead to a better conversation between different stakeholders - people and policymakers. An informed audience and improved conversation will then certainly lead to informed policymaking that addresses the issues related to climate change,” he adds. 

Training could be formulated in two parts - basic and advanced. “As part of the basic training, the focus needs to be on climate literacy through which reporters are introduced to concepts of climate change, the associated terms and how climate change is intersecting with every sphere of life. 

“It is important because rather than treating climate change as a separate subject for reporters it needs to be integrated into most of their usual stories whether it is health, livelihood, etc.”

Training should be carried out with the help of senior journalists, researchers and scientists, civil society experts and even government officials, Aggarwal advises. 

“Then, after slowly building capacity for some time, the training needs to be taken to the advanced level where they are trained for climate verification to tackle misinformation, disinformation and greenwashing claims.”





More Articles

Journalism in chains in Cameroon

Investigative journalists in Cameroon sometimes use treacherous means to navigate the numerous challenges that hamper the practice of their profession: the absence of the Freedom of Information Act, the criminalisation of press offenses, and the scare of the overly-broad anti-terrorism law.

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 12 Apr, 2024
The Perils of Journalism and the Rise of Citizen Media in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia's media landscape is grim, with low rankings for internet and press freedom across the region. While citizen journalism has risen to fill the gaps, journalists - both professional and citizen - face significant risks due to government crackdowns and the collusion between tech companies and authorities to enable censorship and surveillance.

AJR Contributor Published on: 6 Apr, 2024
Silenced Voices: The Battle for Free Expression Amid India’s Farmer’s Protest

The Indian government's use of legal mechanisms to suppress dissenting voices and news reports raises questions about transparency and freedom of expression. The challenges faced by independent media in India indicate a broader narrative of controlling the narrative and stifling dissenting voices.

Suvrat Arora
Suvrat Arora Published on: 17 Mar, 2024
Targeting Truth: Assault on Female Journalists in Gaza

For female journalists in Palestine, celebrating international women's rights this year must take a backseat, as they continue facing the harsh realities of conflict. March 8th will carry little celebration for them, as they grapple with the severe risks of violence, mass displacement, and the vulnerability of abandonment amidst an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Their focus remains on bearing witness to human suffering and sharing stories of resilience from the frontlines, despite the personal dangers involved in their work.

Fatima Bashir
Fatima Bashir Published on: 14 Mar, 2024
A Woman's Journey Reporting on Pakistan's Thrilling Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally

A Woman's Voice in the Desert: Navigating the Spotlight

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 8 Mar, 2024
Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Citizen Journalists in India's Fight for Media Inclusion

Grassroots journalists from marginalized communities in India, including Dalits and Muslims, are challenging mainstream media narratives and bringing attention to underreported issues through digital outlets like The Mooknayak.

Hanan Zaffa
Hanan Zaffar, Jyoti Thakur Published on: 3 Mar, 2024
Why Journalists are Speaking out Against Western Media Bias in Reporting on Israel-Palestine

Over 1500 journalists from various US news organizations have signed an open letter criticizing the Western media's coverage of Israel's actions against Palestinians. They accuse newsrooms of dehumanizing rhetoric, bias, and the use of inflammatory language that reinforces stereotypes, lack of context, misinformation, biased language, and the focus on certain perspectives while diminishing others. They call for more accurate and critical coverage, the use of well-defined terms like "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing," and the inclusion of Palestinian voices in reporting.

Belle de Jong journalist
Belle de Jong Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Blackout on Imran Khan and PTI: Analysing Pakistan's Election Press Restrictions

Implications and response to media censorship and the deliberate absence of coverage for the popular former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in the media during the 2024 elections in Pakistan.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 14 Feb, 2024
Digital Battlegrounds: The New Broadcasting Bill and Independent Journalism in India

New legislation in India threatens the freedom of independent journalism. The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 grants the government extensive power to regulate and censor content, potentially suppressing news critical of government policies.

Safina Nabi Published on: 11 Feb, 2024
Pegasus Spyware: A Grave Threat to Journalists in Southeast Asia

The widespread deployment of spyware such as Pegasus in Southeast Asia, used by governments to target opposition leaders, activists, and journalists, presents significant challenges in countering digital surveillance. This is due to its clandestine operations and the political intricacies involved. The situation underscores the urgent need for international cooperation and heightened public awareness to address these human rights infringements.

AJR Contributor Published on: 5 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
Cameroonian Media Martyrs: The Intersection of Journalism and Activism

Experts and journalists in Cameroon disagree on the relationship between journalism and activism: some say journalism is activism; others think they are worlds apart, while another category says a “very thin” line separate both

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 28 Jan, 2024
Silent Suffering: The Impact of Sexual Harassment on African Newsrooms

Sexual harassment within newsrooms and the broader journalistic ecosystem is affecting the quality and integrity of journalistic work, ultimately impacting the organisation’s integrity and revenue.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 23 Jan, 2024
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Why have opposition parties in India issued a boycott of 14 TV presenters?

Media workers in India argue that boycotts of individual journalists are not the answer to pro-Government reporting bias

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 23 Oct, 2023
The bombs raining down on Gaza from Israel are beyond scary, beyond crazy

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: As Israel bombarded Gaza for the third night, I found myself closer to a missile hit than I could have imagined

Maram Humaid Published on: 11 Oct, 2023
Reporter’s Notebook - what I learned from covering the Kalash people

As journalists, our fascination with Indigenous communities can blind us to our ethical obligations to respect privacy and dignity of those we document - we must reflect carefully

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 5 Oct, 2023
The French banlieues and their troubled relationship with the media

Discriminatory media coverage of recent unrest in the suburbs of Paris shows that little has changed since the uprisings of 2005

Ahmed Nazif Published on: 28 Sep, 2023
Why are Zimbabwe’s elections always surrounded by media controversy?

Election season in Zimbabwe has long been shrouded in controversy, with intimidation of opposition activists and journalists, combined with disorganisation at the ballots creating a perfect storm for chaos. This year was no different

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 25 Sep, 2023
Analysis: The media’s coverage of the Pakistan cable car incident

It was a roller coaster ride with news organisations all over the world giving minute-by-minute reports on the daring rescue. How does the media create suspense and is this sort of coverage useful?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 21 Sep, 2023
How to use data to report on earthquakes

Sifting through data sounds clinical, but journalists can use it to seek out the human element when reporting on natural disasters such as earthquakes

Arwa Kooli Published on: 19 Sep, 2023
Ethical reporting - how to cover suicide responsibly

Sensationalist reporting of suicide cases has been shown to cause a rise in the numbers of people taking their own lives in affected communities. Journalists must take great care

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 7 Sep, 2023