Breaking News: Narrative Change During Climate Disaster
November 30, 2023

Breaking news stories capture attentions and provide an opportunity to seed public discourse, moving folks away from harmful or absent narratives toward ones that advance our work. In this session, Caucus members about a narrative approach to rapid response and engaging with media.

Here are the takeaways:

  • There is a hierarchy of needs when responding to climate disaster that includes public health and safety communications, community aid, and media response. We know that threats to health and safety, security, and addressing trauma come before engaging with media (and are part of the narrative of climate justice).
  •  Our work is to shift climate disaster coverage from harmful narratives that center disaster porn, racist framing, or treating these events as isolated incidents into narratives about communities fighting back against inequitable conditions.
    • Naming climate change as the villain of the story let's bad actors off the hook. We know climate change, and extreme weather, is a symptom, not the cause. Fossil fuel companies, heavy industry, and complacent politicians are the "bad guys" putting the profits of burning fossil fuels over the health and safety of the people.
  • Use the principles of crisis communications to prepare protocols, strategy, and talking points ahead of time. This can include media training for staff and impacted community members, and identifying a couple of key stats (from resources like the Fifth National Climate Assessment) to back up personal stories.
  • When it comes to rapid response, speed is the name of the game. This is not the time to worry about writing the punniest headline. When drafting a statement for media (see template below), an earnest and direct description of events and clear call to action you can release quickly will serve you well.
  • Urgency + Hope = Action is an equation for shifting the narrative in a way that calls people in.
    • Many Caucus members at the training expressed feeling tension between the need to lean into solutions-oriented communications with very real feelings of fear and anger. Ignoring how people are feeling will not build trust but hitting folks over the head with doom and gloom will only encourage them to tune out. This tension will never go away, but we can overcome it by saying what we stand for (and not repeating harmful or oppositional narratives) and calling on narratives of community working together in hope and defiance.

There was a lot more! So, please watch the workshop recording (below) and check out other shared resources: