Journalists Say Florida Is ‘Ground Zero’ For Climate Change. Here’s What They’re Doing About It11:06
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A sliver of blue sky peeks through storm clouds behind rain drops as the rainy season in South Florida is in full swing. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
A sliver of blue sky peeks through storm clouds behind rain drops as the rainy season in South Florida is in full swing. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Are newsrooms doing enough to cover climate change?

That’s the question that Florida newsrooms have decided to tackle head on.

News organizations across the Sunshine State have teamed up to report on climate change as a collaborative effort. The network — including The Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald and WLRN public radio, among others — will share resources and stories that dive deep into the issues presented by climate change.

Miami Herald climate reporter Alex Harris (@harrisalexc) says climate change in Florida “touches every facet of our lives down here.” Residents see how rising sea levels and flooding is impacting their families, homes and wallets, she says.

Tampa Bay Times executive editor Mark Katches (@markkatches) agrees, saying climate change is top of mind for many Floridians. “The fact is, this is ground zero for the impacts of climate change in the state, in the country, [and] in the world.”

The newsrooms’ collaborative aims to bring comprehensive coverage to something that the state “is going to be reckoning with” for the “foreseeable future,” Katches says.

“We see this as the most pressing and biggest issue of our lives and of our children's lives,” he says. “And we want to bring rigor and collaboration to how we cover it here in the state.”

Interview Highlights

On how Miami residents are being conscious of climate change

Alex Harris: When most people think about climate change, they think about, you know, a polar bear on a shrinking ice float. But in South Florida and Miami particularly, it looks more like roads flooded so you can't get to work. It's the change in property values of inland, higher elevation buildings and how that can ripple out to your insurance costs. … We have a unique political atmosphere down here, as well as that everyone kind of agrees this is happening and we're already on the next part of the debate, which is: what do we do about it?

On how their climate coverage is being received

Harris: I get the occasional email or mostly Twitter reply from people who think that my coverage is not based on scientific facts [or] it's liberal. And I would say I get a lot more of that from national readers. From the local level — yes, I do get a couple of those emails but generally, people aren't really concerned about fighting the science. They know it's real. They know their streets are flooding and they're more interested in how much of their taxes are going to pay to install a flood pump at the end of their street. It’s really all about solutions and focused on things that are actually happening in real life.

On hearing from people outside of Florida who want to take climate action

Mark Katches: Well, actually, you had said that there are six partners involved in this and that was exactly right when we founded this. [Now,] we’re up to 17. We have partners from around the country. Most are in Florida, but we just added InsideClimate News [and] Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has joined our network. But mostly, it is newsrooms inside the state. We're also hearing from people honestly who want to give money to us to cover this issue. Individual donors who are really excited about the fact that we're bringing attention to this huge issue.

And just to explain that a little bit about how this works — so right now, it's mostly a content-sharing relationship, where all the partners are sort of required as being partners in this group to contribute stories that everybody else can run. So if the Tampa Bay Times writes two stories and the Miami Herald does two stories and South Florida Sun-Sentinel does two stories a month on this topic and Alex is actually writing more because she's a beat reporter covering this, we all contribute to this ‘bank of stories’ that we can draw from. But yes, we're hearing from partners all over. … We're looking for other partnerships as well to add to this because we're very pragmatic about how we can serve our readers the best way. We know we can’t all do this by ourselves anymore.

On the content they provide readers with

Katches: Well, I believe and I've always subscribed to the belief that you show people, you don't tell them. We're focusing on showing people the impacts. The fact is if we can show people how climate change is impacting them in their community, then it becomes a lot more real and a lot more meaningful. So I understand the issue of tone. I think if you're as neutral as possible but just like, lay the facts out there. We are not legislating in any way. We're not a legislative body here. We're 17 members that are sharing content. Every one of us has our own policies and our own best practices and guidelines that we use. I know in our newsroom and I'm pretty sure in Alex's newsroom, we're focused on just laying the facts out there.

On climate change and politics in Florida

Harris: So actually, we found it kind of interesting what we've seen so far from funding from Tallahassee. Yes, we have some activists [who] like to call the years of Gov. Rick Scott, who's now our state senator, a ‘lost decade’ in terms of policy moving forward on climate change. Gov. DeSantis has moved us a little bit forward in some of his blue-green algae and red tide executive actions and some of his Everglades funding initiatives.

But I wrote — a couple of weeks ago, actually — about how he funded the program that Gov. Rick Scott created to help coastal communities around Florida plan for climate change. He upped that budget. It's still only about $5.5 million, which, when you think about the city of Miami Beach spending $600 million to raise its roads and install flood pumps, it's not that much. And activists that I talked to and people that I talked to — legislators in Tallahassee — talk a lot about how they have a lot more optimism for this upcoming session and maybe having some bills passed and seeing some movement forward from the state level on agreeing that sea level rise is happening and affecting coastal communities. And it's going to be an expensive thing to fix, so they need to start coming up with money for it.

On reader reaction to the newsroom collaboration across the state

Harris: Oh, people are thrilled because I think that's really the kind of stories that people appreciate. The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report is one thing, but hearing here's how it's specifically going to affect my community, my wallet, my house — that's, I think, maybe more important than whatever you call it, is showing people exactly what's going to happen and how they should prepare and what they should know.


Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on August 5, 2019.

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