The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Global Futures at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory are strengthening their relationship to better teach sustainability storytelling as environmental media coverage becomes more prominent.
While climate and sustainability stories can be convoluted due to their geographic and temporal scales, making this information accessible is critical. The university offers programs and courses in this specialty, but bringing on National Geographic editor Susan Goldberg with a cross-appointment in Cronkite and Global Futures is the next step.
Goldberg said she looks forward to “working with people on how we tell stories about sustainability in the environment” because “there’s a big opportunity to improve how it works.”
The world “is adrift from all the pressures we put on it, these are uncharted waters and we need to steer it to a safe landing spot,” said Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Rector at Global Futures Laboratory.
According to Schlosser, scientists and the media are responsible for raising awareness of the challenges we face, their roots and possible solutions.
“I think in journalism we tend to be incredibly negative when we tell stories about sustainability and especially about climate change. A lot of these stories say ‘we’re all doomed’, ‘we’re all going to die’,” Goldberg said.
One way to combat doom and gloom is solution-based journalism — reporting that focuses on answers to problems rather than the problems themselves — said Cronkite Dean Battinto Batts.
Cronkite aims to examine how journalism can further magnify or replicate what works in sustainability storytelling and apply it to different communities. It’s a question of “how can we use our platforms to bring people together…and participate in this process,” Batts said.
Practice professor Peter Byck, who also holds a joint appointment with Global Futures and Cronkite, teaches a course on sustainability storytelling through film.
A good story has to have good characters, said Byck, it’s the connection with real people that can engage and inspire audiences – it’s “all about personal stories…science is kind of the canvas.” background”.
One of the goals of the collaboration is to make a story more relatable, one that will reach the emotions of the audience to inspire more tangible action change on an individual level.
Tracking these stories as events unfold is another critical factor, to ensure that certain stories are told beyond the extreme moments. “It’s something where professionals can do a much better job than us as scientists,” Schlosser said.
Communicating on topics as complex as sustainability issues can be is daunting. Goldberg advocates simplifying this with five points that every sustainability-focused article should hit.
Besides, Goldberg championed a cross-platform storytelling model, using a variety of platforms to connect with a diverse audience to “show and not just tell,” she said.
Tailoring stories to specific audiences is one of the biggest challenges in science communication and one of the areas where someone with experience like Goldberg’s can really help advance, Schlosser said. Goldberg will use his experience with National Geographic to teach, open opportunities and expand public understanding, he said.
Although plans are still underway, Goldberg will work from the ASU campus in Washington, D.C., to “make the university more visible in the city, whether it’s a series of events or attracting more students to Cronkite News here in Washington,” but she plans to visit campuses in Arizona regularly, she says.
Goldberg isn’t the only professional focusing on sustainable journalism at ASU, and the school plans to expand further.
Batts noted two who are currently associated with ASU: Sadie Babits, director of sustainability for Cronkite News, and Byck. Batts said that since Goldberg’s appointment to ASU, he’s heard from at least two reporters interested in partnering with Cronkite as well. “It becomes a recruiting tool for us,” he said.
For curriculum, the University currently offers a dual master’s degree program in which students can simultaneously work toward a master’s degree in mass communication through the Cronkite School and a master’s degree in sustainability solutions through the School of Sustainability.
“Our partnership with Global Futures Laboratories is just that – it’s a global relationship,” Batts said. “If we are thinking global, we need to talk about the future of our planet as it relates to sustainability across multiple factors.”
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