How six Florida newsrooms are working together to strengthen climate change coverage

Posted at 7:38 PM, Jul 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 10:32:16-04

Since its debut in June, the Florida Climate Reporting Network has sparked interest from a growing number of media outlets — even beyond Florida.

The network is emblematic of a trend that’s been seen throughout the cash-strapped news business: A collaborative streak. Competitors are teaming up on certain projects while still competing on other stories. The editors hope that readers are the beneficiaries.

Right now the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and WLRN Public Media make up the network, and they are banding together to increase local reporting about the climate crisis.

Participating newsrooms are “getting daily phone calls and emails from newsrooms across the country that want to be a part of this,” according to Tampa Bay Times executive editor Mark Katches.

Katches, Miami Herald climate change reporter Alex Harris and Julie Anderson, editor-in-chief of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel, spoke about their collaboration on this week’s “Reliable Sources” podcast.

“We’re trying to pull together as many resources as we can to do dedicated reporting on the climate crisis in Florida,” Anderson said. “We felt like none of us could do the job alone, but we thought we could do a pretty good job if we pulled our resources together, or at least amplified our voices together.”

In practice, the network is a “story sharing arrangement,” Katches said, in which all of the participants can draw from the bank of stories from across the publications.

“This is a way to harness the power of great reporting firepower in the state to create something special,” he said.

With newspapers under tremendous financial pressure, Katches said the Florida Climate Reporting Network is an opportunity to revitalize the industry.

“This is an effort for us to exercise some new pragmatism on how we can cover news in a way that we can’t do alone anymore with the resources we have,” he said.

The network is launching at a time when climate crisis news coverage is coming more to the forefront — belatedly, in the minds of many scientists and media critics.

Several news outlets, including The Guardian and Telemundo, have publicly said that they will describe the situation as a “climate emergency.” Last month dozens of protesters were arrested outside The New York Times building during a demonstration to call for similar language in The Times.

In Florida, the network of news outlets has not adopted that approach. And Anderson sought to differentiate between advocacy efforts and energetic news coverage. “We’re reporters, we’re editors and we are reporting on the situation, but we’re not an advocacy group,” she said.

All of the participating news outlets have reporters who cover climate change as part of various beats like business and the environment. But Harris is the only reporter at the six outlets currently dedicated to the climate change beat full-time. She follows the day-to-day effects of climate change and what it looks like “to actually make a community resilient and actually prepare it step by step,” she said.

According to Harris, the Herald newsroom asked the question: “What can we do that really serves our readers? What are they asking for?” and the result was the creation of her climate beat.

“People keep saying we’re ground zero down here,” she said, referring to the numerous climate-related challenges Florida residents face. “We should kind of act like it right?”

Three of the media outlets — the Herald, the Palm Beach Post and the Sun Sentinel — have already been working together on something called the Invading Sea project, which combined forces in South Florida because, in the words of the editors, “the threat becomes more evident every year and we share a common coastline.”

This involved the editorial boards of the three papers, plus reporting from WLRN.

At a Facebook-sponsored conference about local news in Denver last March, Anderson and Katches met for the first time and began talking about expanding the collaboration to the news side of the papers and, Anderson said, “beyond South Florida into the whole state.”

They sketched it out during a panel discussion, and others immediately said they wanted to be involved. “And we knew right away that we were hitting on an issue that was going to resonate,” he said.

Harris said the idea struck a chord at the Miami Herald, which already had been talking about broadening the scope of the climate change beat.

In her day-to-day reporting, Harris takes a hyper-local look at the effects of climate change. Katches said that’s crucial.

While climate change is a global concern, “for us, it’s very much a local story,” he said. “And being able to tackle it in a unique way, I think, gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

Looking forward, Harris hopes to work on collaborations with reporters from other news outlets in the network. And in her own coverage, she plans to take a “statewide approach to this, rather than the hyper-local look,” she said.

The participants plan to begin pooling their resources and “tackling joint projects together up and down the state,” Katches said.

And they intend to formalize it, perhaps by seeking funding from outside foundations or other partners. “We believe this is a project that should last long beyond us that started it,” Anderson said.