Localizing Climate Change Stories

An enterprising journalistic endeavor is a welcome change of pace from the standard media fare.

Media coverage of climate change often has a broadly political, scientific, or trivial bent. Stories are driven by a daily — even hourly — news cycle. Reporters on the climate beat mostly write articles about new studies in prestige journals, related national and international policy and political developments, advocacy campaigns, and controversial statements from well-known figures. Recent examples of the latter would be reporting on famed scientist James Lovelock and baseball announcer Tim McCarver.

What we don’t see much are climate change stories at the local or regional level.

So it’s refreshing to hear of a young, enterprising journalist who aims to cover climate change from the ground up. Check out this impressive initiative by Ari Phillips, a graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin. This summer, Phillips will be traversing the American Southwest to cover climate and energy-related issues. Here’s his plan:

I’ll compile a regional report through firsthand accounts and onsite reporting in an attempt to demonstrate the complexity and interconnectedness of the issues at hand. I’ve identified nine critical stories below — from the surging natural gas production of Midland, TX to the controversial solar parks of the Mojave Desert.

His ambitious venture is posted at Kickstarter, a website that enables people to solicit funding for individual projects.

Phillips, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, makes clear that he is motivated by concerns about climate change. He’s hoping that “through my reporting I can call attention to some of the most pressing issues in the region.”

That’s fine. Advocacy reporting has a time-honored place in the history of journalism. Phillips’ articles will and should be judged on their journalistic merits. Based on the outlines of the stories he’s sketched out for exploration, it appears he has a solid grasp of the cross-cutting issues and nuances that make climate change such a challenging issue to report on at the local level.

Phillips hopes to place his stories at various regional and national outlets. To that end, he would do well to contact editors ahead of time and solicit their input. Because there is a dearth of climate coverage in local newspapers, Phillips should also try to work with local outlets in the regions where his stories are set. Since his goal is to “call attention” to the impact of climate change at a local level, his most receptive and important audiences will be local ones.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.
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8 Responses to Localizing Climate Change Stories

  1. While thrilled by the upcoming place-focused, climate reporting by Ari Phillips, there are lots of us already working on climate issues in the local trenches. After all, by 2050, more than half of humanity will be urban. For just one NYC-focused example of the climate/energy nexus that’s illustrative of the urban scale, please see http://bit.ly/IQ3lvd . Hope it’s useful

  2. keith Kloor says:

    Glad to hear of these other efforts. I didn’t mean to imply that there was no local climate coverage–just a big imbalance between international/national and local.

    Michelle, Some of what Ari proposes to report on seems tailor made for High Country News. :)


  4. Sounds like a great project! At The Field Museum, we’ve focused on highlighting local stories too–focused a bit on climate change but primarily emphasizing climate action. Our rapid community studies on community understandings of climate change and community practices related to climate action can be found here: http://fieldmuseum.org/explore/department/ecco/engaging-chicago-communities-climate-action.

    We just finished a project translating research findings into tools for community climate action–and documenting projects in 4 Chicago communities. The toolkit website is: climatechicago.fieldmuseum.org.

    Making climate change local, and action personal, is crucial to our success. Making it visual and fun has to be a key part of this strategy as well.

  5. Bruce says:


    Are you seriously suggesting that “the surging natural gas production of Midland, TX (and) … the controversial solar parks of the Mojave Desert” have never received local or regional coverage?

    Ari writes on his website in relation to one of his topics, “Climate change is drastically altering the forests of the Southwest. Increased temperatures and decreased rainfall are jeopardizing these prized forests, which are crucial to the ecosystem.”

    Looks to me as if he’s pretty well made up his mind already so I don’t expect to see much in the way of objective reporting, just more of the advocacy that has served the climate debate so poorly up ’til now.

    • Ari says:

      Here’s a reference to a recent study “Forest responses to increasing aridity and warmth in the southwestern United States” by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/50/21289.abstract

      I suppose you might consider this type of “scientific study” to be advocacy as well. It’s very hard to be objective – and asserting objectivity is reason for skepticism if you ask me – but journalism should strive to be fair.

      • Bruce says:

        You’d have to embark on your project with no pre-conceived ideas if your intention was to be objective and fair. That’s really not the case, is it?