“YOU NIBBLE AWAY AT THE EDGES”: A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF CLIMATE JOURNALISM PRACTICE IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
Anthropogenic climate change is a wicked problem and the nature of the climate discourse propagated through media outlets is one key component in shaping how the public understand and act upon its causes and ramifications. This study draws on journalism practice theory and related approaches to analyse semi-structured interviews from early 2020 with 10 journalists who consistently cover climate change in Aotearoa New Zealand. It describes and contextualises CJ practice in relation to the negotiation of journalistic responsibilities within media, climate and Covid-related arenas. The analysis finds that the journalists seek to provide accurate, contextualised, holistic stories, to aim for fair and diversified representation, to ensure fresh and regular coverage, maintain an emotional awareness, make coverage interesting and relevant without sacrificing the above principles, and be responsive to audience needs and feedback. Discursive challenges include representing—and visualising–the perspectives of frontline communities without stereotyping, explaining the science in fresh ways, and regularly communicating the vast and overwhelming nature of climate change. The analysis situates CJ within a journalistic space to elucidate the relationships between the symbolic capital and material resources at the journalists’ disposal, and those present within CJ when understood nationally. National trends show numbers of reporters, editorial legitimacy of CJ and science communication expertise increasing, but the landscape is highly variable between organisations, with a few individuals driving much of the change. Areas of friction between climate reporting and media logic reveal a high degree of similarity with findings from other Anglo-Saxon countries. Climate connections are not consistently integrated within general journalism despite climate change being considered increasingly newsworthy and unavoidable. The early months of the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the financial precarity of both the journalism industry and the journalists’ daily routines and held CJ issue attention implications.