Insights on Public Information for Weather and Climate by Clare Nullis, WMO

At the ICPAC training week in early June, Clare Nullis from WMO talked to the participants about how to handle the media. She has twenty years of journalistic experience, after which she started working as a Media Officer at WMO, which makes her insights valuable to the participants of the training week. This article will sum up some of the key points and advice from Clare:

Analysing WMO´s media coverage, they found that the frequency is closely linked to extreme weather events like drought, heat waves and hurricanes. There is definitely a public interest in WMO´s work connected to climate change, and there is also an increasing political interest. This is very positive, but when the interest is there, we need to make it even more comprehensible for the people who are seeking the information, and to do so, we need to keep a few things in mind.

It is important for organisations like the WMO to maintain a good relationship with journalists. By having a good dialogue, WMO are more likely to get media coverage when something happens because the journalists know that WMO answers the phone and are happy to help a journalist on deadline with a comment. Furthermore, a good relationship often means they are more understanding when you make mistakes. This can be done by simple things such as returning phone calls and answering emails. Even if you do not want to answer, it is important to give them a response.

Journalists are busy and potentially have many cases going on at the same time, so to have good, concise written quotes for them is often appreciated. Nevertheless, it is crucial in any media setting that you say what you and those you represent want to communicate, not what the journalist wants to hear. Journalists may not always contact you directly for a quote, but may use your social media posts and embed those in their article instead. Therefore, it can be smart to keep a neutral, professional tone which represents the organisation just as well as a press release or a planned written statement would.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is that language is crucial. When reporting extreme weather events, you should explain it in the same way you would explain something to your friends over dinner. The language should be easy to understand, concepts need to be explained and the text should be easy to follow. When you are addressing the public, you need to address them on their own terms. That means that you cannot speak in the language you would use with a fellow scientist, but rather use a type of language your grandmother would understand. This will help get your message across in the best possible way.

If there is anything positive to take away from the pandemic, it might just be the use of digital communication tools, such as Zoom and MS Teams. This expands the reach of organisations like WMO to journalists who normally would not be able to attend their press conferences. This can potentially increase the visibility of the consequences of climate change, and this is particularly important in many cities in Africa which have already warmed by over 2 degrees. Thus, it is important to shed light on how to communicate this to the public in the most effective way.