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Global Initiative Helps Newsrooms Boost Climate Change Coverage

A group of TheCable journalists work on a group assignment during training in Lagos. From left to right: Wasilat Azeez, Vivian Chime, Fikayo Owoeye, Jemilat Nasir, Jerry Lebang, James Ojo, Jesupemi Are. (Courtesy: Mansur Ibrahim/TheCable)

The impact of droughts on farming communities, the effects of flooding on coastal cities, the damage to delicate mangroves. These are just some of the stories journalist Vivian Chime is tackling to show the impact of climate change in Nigeria.

The effects of climate change are being felt across Africa, but the issue is often underreported, with many newsrooms lacking the necessary resources or reporters to cover it.

After learning about the field of environmental reporting, Chime knew she wanted to be one of the journalists bringing awareness in Nigeria.

“I fell in love with climate journalism,” she told VOA. “I decided that if climate change is something that is affecting the world and then my country, of course I would love to be that reporter who gets to demystify what climate change means.”

Vivian Chime, Report for the World corps member, during training at her newsroom at TheCable in Lagos, Nigeria. (Courtesy: Mansur Ibrahim/TheCable)
Vivian Chime, Report for the World corps member, during training at her newsroom at TheCable in Lagos, Nigeria. (Courtesy: Mansur Ibrahim/TheCable)

Now, Chime is doing just that. Through a program with Report for the World, Chime has joined the Nigerian news outlet, TheCable, as an environmental reporter.

Started in February, Report for the World is an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, an international organization that supports journalists in under-covered regions.

The initiative is responding to a “global call for more sustainable, more impactful and more local reporting,” Kevin Grant, GroundTruth Project's chief content officer and co-founder, told VOA via email.

The program is still in its early stages, but Chime is already planning to take on big stories with local impact.

Chime says she wants to make the sometimes complex topic of climate change more accessible to everyday readers. She breaks down environmental terminology and tries to tell her stories in a more personalized way, by talking about the people and communities affected.

“I don't just write how climate change is causing flooding, I go to the people who live in environments that have been flooded, people who have been affected, and then I get their voices,” Chime said.

A U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change report in 2017 describes Nigeria as “considerably impacted by climate change.”

Up to 70% of government revenue comes from oil and gas exports, according to Carbon Brief, a UK based website focused on climate science and policy. The country in 2015 was responsible for the second highest greenhouse emissions in the continent—a figure the government has pledged to cut by 20% in 2030.

A USAID report projects that rising temperatures and sea levels, and increased rainfall by 2060 will damage the country’s agriculture, health and energy sectors.

Sister Network

Report for the World was formed as a sister program to Report for America, which places journalists in newsrooms across the U.S. at a time when local media are facing economic challenges.

In the past 15 years, the U.S. has seen a decline in local journalism, attributed in part to the changing digital landscape and financial pressures. Around a quarter of news outlets have closed in that timeframe, research by the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found.

But the crisis in local news is a global issue, Grant told VOA.

“For years, we’ve been hearing from local newsrooms around the globe with requests to replicate Report for America in other countries,” Grant said.

Report for the World is supporting six reporters in two newsrooms: in India and TheCable in Nigeria.

In choosing these newsrooms, Report for the World was looking for “partners who have a track record of advancing journalism as a public service,” Grant said.

“Historically, India and Nigeria have been beacons of free press on their respective continents,” Grant said, adding that with “COVID-19, the spread of social media, and the rise of nationalist governments, press freedom has been under attack on all fronts.”

Nigeria’s press freedom ranking declined 5 points on Reporters Without Borders’ annual index, coming in at 120 out of 180 countries, where 1 is freest. The media watchdog said that Nigeria has strong media pluralism but that it is also one of the most dangerous and difficult countries in West Africa to be a journalist. India ranks at 142, with RSF saying journalists face attack and harassment from a range of actors.

The global pandemic added further pressure to media. In Nigeria, a drop in advertisements led to more than 20 news outlets announcing cuts to salary and staff, according to the regional nongovernmental organization, Media Foundation for West Africa.

To help address economic challenges, Report for the World pays half a journalist’s salary during the first year and supports the partner newsrooms in efforts to raise the other half, Grant said.

Along with training sessions on safety, cyber security, international collaboration, and story design, journalists receive mentorship and support from a global network.

Local Impact

For Chime, the program offers unique opportunities to connect with her community and bring climate change issues to light.

“I am reporting for impact,” Chime said. “I am reporting because I want something to be done about this issue.”

Report for the World’s credibility helped Chime connect with sources including Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency—a body that focuses on disaster preparedness and response—to discuss how the government is responding to the threats of climate change.

Report for the World also shares Chime’s work, broadening her platform and allowing her stories to reach more people.

Impact is an important part of Report for the World’s mission.

“Communities without local news are more likely to experience famine, less government spending, less transparent and effective elections, and more corruption,” Grant said.

A 2020 study into the need for an international fund for public interest media, produced by the BBC and Luminate—part of the philanthropic Omidyar Network—made the case for how local media creates social cohesion, establishes a strong community identity, helps governments respond more effectively to the needs of its people, and plays a crucial role in combating public health emergencies, such as a pandemic.

As countries work to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Grant says that local reporting will play a critical role in creating effective immunization campaigns.

Report for the World plans to expand its reach with placements planned for Latin America later this year. Grant said he hopes the program will come to include non-English language newsrooms and those in more rural environments.

For journalists like Chime, the support has helped increase the impact of her reporting.

“It's given me that readership, it's given me that followership,” Chime said.