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How to get Sustainability the Media Coverage it Deserves: The 4Es
Policy and communications professionals must engage with journalists more effectively to mainstream sustainability

Riddhima Sethi
25 March 2021

India’s media industry is amongst the largest in the world, with over 140,000 print media publications, more than 170 television news channels and numerous online news portals. Yet, sustainability-related articles comprise a very small fraction of the countless stories making their way through these channels every minute of the day. One key reason is that currently a very small set of journalists solely cover sustainability issues in India and other stories are rarely looked at with a sustainability lens. 

Sustainability-related reporting has also become harder due to wider sectoral challenges, such as shrinking media revenues and team sizes, limited budgets for field-reporting, and the pressure to focus on writing articles that will grab attention and generate clicks. Given that the role of the media is critical to shifting sustainability from the margins to the mainstream, policy and communication professionals in the sustainability sector must reassess how they engage with journalists more effectively. Here’s what I call the 4Es of effective communication with the media.

Excite – A journalist thrives on fresh story angles, on-ground perspectives, and new data from reliable sources. As a first step, anticipate what journalists are looking for and map it to the content that you could offer. Stay on top of the news cycle to identify major sustainability-related announcements or events. Journalists are more receptive to ideas when a major story is developing. Spamming them with information which may not be timely, new or relevant is unlikely to yield results. Also have a razor-sharp focus on sharing fresh insights, as stories based on those often make the cut at the edit desk. For instance, an international journalist covering air pollution in Delhi may not be excited by the daily rise or dip in air quality numbers. She is, however, likely to be interested in the trends and reasons behind those numbers. Further, at times, connecting journalists to on-ground actors and affected citizens could lead to a compelling human-interest story being written. 

Engage – Build a meaningful relationship with a mutual exchange of relevant information rather than reaching out only to push your own agenda. Follow their work and connect with them to share relevant inputs and feedback. Identify and have periodic conversations with a few dedicated key journalists in your areas of work. Their sectoral view and ability to keep a keen eye on upcoming trends could help you connect the dots in your work better, while it may simultaneously spark ideas for an interesting potential story for them. For example, instead of sending an energy journalist a recent report on the energy transition, seek a meeting and discuss the bigger picture—what the transition means for the sector, what are the current challenges, and how can these be addressed in the short and long term. 

Elucidate – With the rapidly evolving sustainability landscape and new announcements on sustainability issues, journalists are often on the lookout for experts who can answer technical questions to help them refine their reporting, without expecting something in return. Establish trust by being available to educate them in your areas of expertise. For instance, if a journalist reporting on transport were to shift to the environment beat, take the time out to give her an overview of the ongoing efforts on climate adaptation and mitigation along with highlighting pressing policy challenges and opportunities. You could even share recommendations on what might make for interesting stories in the space. While this seems like a lot of work, the effort could lay the groundwork for a stronger relationship in the long run.

Empathise – Journalists have a difficult job, including keeping up with the 24x7 news cycle, working with limited resources, coordinating with multiple stakeholders, meeting tight timelines, and navigating through endless notifications and calls regarding potential pitches. Hence, it is important to empathise with them and promptly provide accurate information in the easiest-possible format. For example, rather than sending an Excel with numbers that would take hours to comprehend, send them a neat graph with a brief note explaining key insights from the data. This often requires coordination with internal teams to convert technical information into material that is easier to comprehend.  

Riddhima Sethi is a Communications Specialist at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). Send your comments to riddhima.sethi@ceew.in.

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