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. 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.
In his biography My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times, Harold Evans, the mythological editor of the British newspaper The Sunday Times, writes that the public tends to collectively forget burning matters. Therefore, one of the many roles played by newspapers and other news platforms is to continually remind the public that this or that issue is still at stake.
Evans is right – it is crucial that journalists will use the platform given to them to state what is important, what is worth covering and debating over and over again. But they must not forget that it comes with a price, a rather significant one, which Israeli journalists are familiar with. Reminding readers or audiences over and over again about a particular issue creates a public indifference towards it.
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, for example, writes daily on matters related to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The price we “pay” for that daily reminder is that most of the Israeli public has become “used” to reading about it by now, and therefore is somewhat apathetic towards its daily reality. Even Israeli readers who consider themselves as peace-seekers often feel desperate and helpless towards the issue, to the point that it numbs their potential activism. They are not to blame; it is hard to keep oneself highly interested in an ongoing daily matter. The newspaper is not to blame either; it is its duty to report.
The challenges reporters and editors have to overcome while reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are similar to those encountered by journalists and editors worldwide covering the environmental crisis. It is the media’s role to continually remind the public and its leaders that such an urgent crisis exists and that critical actions must be done to counter it, but while doing so – they might despair and numb the public opinion towards it.
“When describing a hopeful narrative, readers are keener to listen.”
Nevertheless, how can the international media regularly report on issues related to global warming, climate change, pollution and species extinction, as it should do, but at the same time refrain from creating this “indifference screen” of the public towards it?
The answer might lie in another British newspaper, The Guardian. In 2015, The Guardian launched an environmental campaign focusing on global warming and its connection to the use of fossil fuels. Its title was “Keep It in The Ground,” and it included articles, events, and actions aiming to broaden the use of clean energy sources and disinvesting from the fossil fuels industry. The campaign had two phases and after the first one, the editors browsed through the comments and remarks received by their audiences in order to decide what direction they should take for the second phase.
What they found out while “listening” to their readers is that “one message came through loud and clear,” as they described it in a Q&A regarding the campaign: “people want hope.” The editors wrote that “there’s no doubting that the challenges posed by climate change are monumental, but we believe that the potential of clean energy and the stories of people finding new ways to fight climate change are currently underreported.”
Within this answer, we can find a path that can crack the indifference wall. The positive narrative can function as a means to continually remind people about the urgency of the environmental crisis while refraining from arousing potential numbness.
I find it helpful when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. When describing a hopeful narrative within the complex conflict, readers are keener to listen. Positive reporting opens the heart, and the message is more likely to come through. Delivering the message of urgency and nurturing the need for action is one of the most important roles the international media has today regarding our planet.
The domino effect of “hopeful” journalism can be observed through the effects of media coverage during the Arab Spring – putting aside the varied results of the Arab Spring itself. In 2010, more than ten countries were carried away by revolutionary waves against corrupt and non-democratic regimes. Millions of people went out to the streets calling for change. The Arab Spring is attributed mostly to social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter. It is true that social media supplied significant leverage to this uprising, but it is also the standard news outlets that made it THE hopeful story of its time, while spreading an optimistic vision from one country to the next.
The change-demanders went out to the streets because they were carried away by a hopeful narrative. It was a mesmerizing moment in global history, in which a vast cross-border community emerged after collectively realizing how similar their claims were, and how powerful their unity.
The Arab Spring is a lesson to us all. It hints that a global uprising against the big corporations contaminating our land, waters and skies and against their collaborators in key positions – those allowing them to keep compromising our health, our environment and our safety – might be closer than we think. The outline is not so different from the Arab Spring – a global community, fed up with influential figures affecting their lives without accountability, realizes that they share the same problems, and thus feels that together, they can change this reality. When we frame it this way, it seems that an Environmental Spring may be just around the corner.