How The Guardian and GEN are getting news orgs around the world to share climate change content

Screen shot, The Guardian
Screen shot, The Guardian

37 news organizations from around the world now share their work on climate change with each other. The Climate Publishers Network, which launched in May, is "totally rogue," said The Guardian's Nabeelah Shabbir, and "a sign of good faith between international publishers that we would republish each other's climate change content..."

Shabbir, a journalist on The Guardian's #KeepItInTheGround project, oversees the network, publishing and sharing stories from news outlets around the world leading up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this month.

“It’s a fascinating experiment to be in touch with these papers everyday, across time zones and linguistic barriers, as part of a common will to get the world’s media united, pooling their resources and sharing these stories in advance of the Paris UN summit,” Shabbir said.

Via email, we caught up to talk about the project, how it works and what they're planning next.

Let's talk about Climate Publishers Network. Fill us in on what's happening with the project and your role in it.

Before stepping down as the editor-in-chief of The Guardian earlier this year, Alan Rusbridger had assembled a team to intensely explore and cover the issue of climate change during his last months in office.

Wolfgang Blau of the Guardian and Bertrand Pecquerie of the Global Editors Network both worked together in the early stages to solve legal issues around relaxing copyrights for the partnership, finding a user-friendly content management system, and Pecquerie personally recruited the now 37 partners of the network. The two organizations then joined forces with [Madrid's] El Pais around this mission statement:

"Climate change is a topic many news organizations around the world would like to cover more frequently, but don't have the resources for."

Around 37 publishers worldwide are now working with the simplest-possible terms and conditions to share their articles on climate change for free, from newsroom to newsroom.

How does it operate?

The CMS is very simple: a Google document in which each of the participating media has a tab; from Aftenposten in Norway to the Sydney Morning Herald, via China Daily or Clarín in Argentina.

Each "climate publishers network coordinator" - usually the environment editor from each newspaper - has access to the doc, and uploads the latest articles they've published on climate change, which they think would be relevant to republish elsewhere and for an international audience.

Others surf the doc and translate and republish. In the spirit of cooperation, translations are also shareable according to this agreement.

I've been working on the Keep It In The Ground coverage that The Guardian launched this year full-time; it was our mission to put climate change "front, right and centre" of what we do. So I have the luxury of being in touch with environment editors around the world, from Europe, Latin America, Africa, North America, Oceania and Asia, at such a critical time in the run up to Cop 21 (United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.)

What, if any, surprises have you encountered while working with news organizations around the world on this?

Only good surprises. The resources different newspapers have when it comes to covering climate change can be scant (in Greece for example, the only contact at To Vima is one science editor), whereas some are full-throttle (The Age in Australia, De Standaard in Belgium), whilst others still simply have deep climate change roots (The Straits Times in Singapore).

It's always a good surprise to see that a Danish paper has taken on a piece from Australia; or that the three Argentinian organizations involved are doing such a stellar job at telling their readers across the country about climate change at different lengths. Seeing Germany taking a story written from a Belgian perspective about their Energiewende, or the general enthusiasm at reading stories with a Brazilian perspective...

Our values when it comes to climate change are also so universal - everyone's interested in the idea of London running emissions-free buses which were made in China, or about how our data servers on the Internet are as polluting as the total amount of aircraft in the world.

How do you measure success?

Over 100 articles have been republished across 17 languages, but it's not really about the quantity of republications. As some colleagues explained to me, their audiences may not be as tuned into journalism around fossil fuel divestment as The Guardian has been this year, whilst others may publish more locally, and pretty much most of the organizations have access to the same reports and scientific journals, so there is a lot of crossover.

That's the luxury of this partnership: being able to share notes on climate change with each other, to report on stories we may not otherwise have had the chance to, and to show that with this united voice, we're all serious about making climate change a firm story of newspapers and media publishers today.

What's next?

For the moment, the Climate Publishers Network is slated to be running until the final day of the UN Paris climate summit, or COP 21, which takes place at the end of November until mid December. It's temporary and ad-hoc, although of course, this could change. (Pecquerie added in an email that the Climate Publishers Network was not only a temporary free syndication of articles, but also offered the journalists briefings "via an agreement with the COP21 General Secretariat to offer regular 60 minute sessions with top executives of COP21 and IPCC (through Google Hangouts)",)

Most importantly, we're all in contact. The Guardian has just started the next step in its Keep It In The Ground campaign, which pivots the focus from fossil fuel divestment in phase one to renewable energy in phase two, particularly solar. It's a story which an Australian, Norwegian or an Indian should be as familiar with as a Nigerian or a Bolivian.

Related: Poynter's News University has two courses on climate change reporting. Whose Truth? Tools for Smart Science Journalism in the Digital Age and Covering Climate Change are both self-directed courses.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Argentina's Clarín. It has been corrected. The role of the Global Editors Network has also been clarified in the story and the headline.

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