The Global Challenges Foundation Quarterly Reports examine how the world is currently jeopardized by global risks of catastrophic magnitude, and what solutions might directly or indirectly reduce, mitigate or – at best – eliminate those risks. In this issue, we focus more particularly on the stories that drive global action and the writers of those stories. What we need to see at this point in global history is global action. This requires global narratives. Therefore, we give center stage to voices from the global media to share perspectives on their work.

The first section of the report, ‘watchdog for the future’, offers four pieces that explore the role of the journalist in guiding public action and holding institutions to account. In the opening piece, Emmy award-winning journalist Lynn Walsh advocates the need for journalists to occupy ‘A front row to history’. The public has a right to know what is happening around them. But in a world that is increasingly global, where facts are often unclear and technological developments blur the distinction between the real and the fake, how can journalists ensure that this right is met? When decisions made on one point of the planet often affect people on the other side, it is vital that journalists can maintain first hand access to leaders, no matter where they are. Without this, we would be without perspective, without context, and in some cases, without the truth.

As the growing threats of war, weapons of mass destruction and climate change increase the need for a form of global government that can protect vulnerable populations, what is the role of journalists when reporting on our foremost international institution, the United Nations? Janine di Giovanni, Edward Murrow Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Affairs in New York, reflects on this essential question in ‘The journalist and the UN’. In spite of brilliant work from the new Secretary General Guterres, the UN still faces numerous challenges and limitations, particularly the need to placate the current United States administration. Journalists have a role to play in this context, by working with the organization to continuously increase its transparency, and meet the request of our times for truth telling.

If anyone has the power to solve global crises, it would seem to be our officially elected leaders. However, the leader of a nation only holds responsibility to their national constituencies. This is the premise for Indonesian journalist Amanda Siddharta’s contribution, ‘Keeping powers in check’. How can we incentivize leaders to go beyond the narrow terms of their mandate and address the global challenges that will affect their constituents in the future? Journalists have a crucial role to play in underlining not only crime and corruption, but also abuse of power in the form of neglect. They can alert the public when leaders are not serving its long-term interests and effectively fail to deliver on their mandate, and thus increase the chances that leaders will live up to their moral obligation. 

Media interest towards climate change swelled in the run-up to COP21, but after the event, coverage was neither sustained nor effective in mobilizing people. Why does climate reporting fall short of achieving the effects required by the seriousness of the issue, inquires journalist Kristine Sabillo in ‘Reshaping climate reporting: four challenges and one sign of hope’. Indeed, the structure of media organizations favors regular beats and news that sell over climate related issues, there is a lack of journalists trained on the issue, funding for climate reporting is inadequate, and multi-sensory stories accessible to non-expert audiences are difficult to produce. However, global collaboration around climate reporting has already given birth to remarkable projects, and offers great hope for the future.

The second half of the report focuses on the need to develop new types of stories that effectively connect events happening around the planet and make sense of our new shared condition. Media power today suffers from the simultaneous shockwaves of changing business models, fake news, and fragmentation through social networks, explains Cristina Manzano from esglobal in ‘Champions for change: building global narratives in a fragmented media landscape’. In this context, how can the media construct and disseminate global narratives? In the past century, governments and political leaders played a major role in building global consensus. Today, however, a broader range of actors are trying to make their voices heard. In this new landscape, an incipient global conscience is emerging around issues led by “champions” of all sorts, through a bottom-up approach that harnesses the power of technology. A new role for the media may be to identify those champions, and help their voices stand out from the surrounding noise.

Amy Wilentz, writer and professor of literary journalism at the University of California, explores a similar topic from a different perspective in ‘From fragments to pattern: weaving new global narratives’. With digital development and greater ease of transport, human stories are increasingly intertwined today. Yet the connection between the broader narrative and local circumstances is often lost, whether for climate change, the global refugee crisis, or the ongoing nuclear weapons disaster. Three things must change for global reporting to better weave the stories unfolding across the planet. We need platforms and institutions where work can be shared and fast translations made. We need new models of collaboration and new cross-border agencies. Finally, we need financial support for those platforms and for cross-border investigative projects.

In an increasingly connected world, how can we address the democratic need to adequately inform the public on cross-border issues, such as climate change, financial meltdowns, or big data society? Traditional foreign correspondence overemphasizes domestic interests, argues Peter Berglez, professor of Media and Communication Studies at Jönköping University in ‘Time for the rise of global journalism’. Instead, what we need today is global journalism, an approach to reporting concerned with the interconnectedness of things, where local or domestic affairs are contextualized in relation to global sources.

Could new forms of participatory media powered by digital technology unify people around new global narratives? Katharina Kloss, editor in chief of Cafébabel, one such platform started in 2001 to share stories by and for young Europeans, explores this question in ‘Beyond babel: participatory digital platforms and cross-border narratives’. Four characteristics of participatory digital media are of particular relevance today: they support new forms of cross-border investigations, they allow stories to circulate across linguistic and cultural silos, they support stories natively framed from a global perspective, and they gather audiences that reach beyond national boundaries. Thus, new media platforms, in Europe and elsewhere, might offer a path towards a deeper sense of shared belonging beyond the borders of languages, cultures, and nation states. 

Visual storytelling often moves readers more than words ever could, as Katie Nelson, journalist and photographer, states in ‘The power of a single frame: photojournalism and global consciousness’. Powerful images not only make the news, but they can also prompt collective action to face a given challenge. With the rise of digital connectivity, there has never been a better time to use the power of photography. And yet, when the challenges of our times are more intertwined than ever, and billions of photos – real and fake – are shared online everyday, what does the future of photojournalism look like? Emerging initiatives that not only harness the power of photography but also integrate data and research might serve as a rallying call to catalyze viewers into action on behalf of the greater good.

The media should continually remind the public of what is important. But this comes with a price: the more audiences are reminded of a particular issue, the more indifferent they become. How can journalists overcome this challenge, particularly when it comes to the pressing global environmental issue? People want hope, proposes Netta Ahituv from Haaretz in ‘How to overcome public indifference’. And so, by sharing positive stories that nurture this desire for hope, the media can emphasize the urgency of the environmental crisis and develop the need for action, while avoiding the risk of indifference.

When global challenges are covered in the media, how much attention is paid to the most affected citizens? People don’t change their beliefs based on facts and numbers, argues Dina Samak from El-Ahram in the final piece, ‘Relatable heroes’. Inspiring stories of people who choose hope over despair, however, could have this effect. Therefore, when giving disaster a human face, the media may do better than showing only the victims. Relatable heroes, if their stories are shared, could inspire collective action beyond the borders of nations.