Briefing Notes: BBC News on Climate Change
Matt McGrath, BBC Environment Correspondent
Climate and Science team
Matt is part of the 20-25 strong Climate and Science team (it was previously Science and Environment). The new name signals the importance that the BBC attaches to climate change. The team is being relocated to Cardiff so there will be some departures. The main correspondents are David Shukman, Victoria Gill, Rebecca Morelle, Justin Rowlatt, Claire Marshall, Pallab Ghosh and Roger Harrabin. Each has their own area of interest which you can see from their previous reporting but there is some overlap. Roger covers UK and Matt global. Matt mainly produces digital content but also some radio and TV. He covers climate change, IPPC, COP, UN, global policy and impacts.
Climate change coverage
Matt said there is a big audience appetite for climate change related stories and interest is growing. When he wrote a story about the latest IPPC report it had 4m page views on the day. He says that their audience research shows that the audience likes mainstream coverage of the big climate stories. They like the fact that the BBC is objective and is a reliable source of information.
Changes to BBC News
A new commissioning system is currently being put in place to avoid duplication and to focus on fewer stories. It was felt that there were too many stories being produced and too much duplication. Commissioning groups will decide which stories to prioritise and the approach will be digital first. Each story will run on radio, TV and online, so for the stories that are commissioned will reach bigger audiences than in the past. There will be greater depth and analysis. The downside is that there will be a narrowing of the range of stories. Matt agreed that the big news story of the day will dominate, as it does now, but said there would be a greater effort to put in place explainers and increase the range of voices that are heard on a story.
Matt was sympathetic about the challenges of pitching to BBC News. He said a lot is about building relationships. The first story you pitch will not necessarily get commissioned but a later one may. Target a correspondent that you think may be interested and start trying out ideas on them. He said most of the commissioning for the coverage of COP has been done but advised everyone to watch events and post comments or pictures that are relevant on a given day. He said there will be live coverage online throughout COP and this is a good opportunity to place topical stories especially on the first few days of COP when not much is newsworthy. The BBC is going to give COP a huge amount of coverage. Also think about pitching spokespeople, but be clear that they have something to say and are willing to be outspoken. This is a chance to talk about issues rather than a PR opportunity for an NGO. There is strong interest in data – if you are pitching data then the BBC will need access to the raw data and their in house team will make the charts.
Impact of climate change on developing countries
This is an aspect of the climate change story that the BBC wants to cover but Matt said that they had covered it already and needed to keep finding new angles. They are also keen to ensure that voices from these worst affected communities are heard during COP and Matt accepts that NGOs are closer to the communities and can help to give the BBC access.
Changing tone of coverage
The BBC’s approach to covering this issue had changed a lot since the previous COP when coverage had to be ‘balanced’ with sceptical voices included. BBC News now accepts that climate change is the result of human actions. Given the audience interest, the BBC is aware of its responsibility in covering the issue and wants to ensure that its coverage reaches mainstream audiences. They are often more interested in the practical aspects – such as replacing gas boilers – and Matt feels that future coverage will look more at these practical realities. He also says that want to give more time to food and the food system. There is great interest in positive stories and people want to see solutions and how they work on the ground. In future, correspondents like Matt will be travelling much less and stories will be covered by in country reporters. This has been happening already under Covid and will continue. Reporters will still go on trips – for example to undertake investigations – but they won’t go simply to be seen in a place or to record a piece to camera.