Climate crisis: How India’s ETPrime is spicing up its coverage

2021-08-27. How do you pique audience interest when it comes to climate change coverage? This is the question Aesha Datta, assistant editor, environment, for India’s members-only business news site ETPrime strives to answer through her reporting.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | August 27, 2021

On World News Day, 28 September, some 300 newsrooms around the world will show what they are doing about climate change.

As part of the build-up, Laura Oliver interviewed Aesha Datta,  the only staffer dedicated to environmental coverage in ETPrime‘s 39-strong editorial team. She is focused on deep dive, often data-driven, stories and series exploring everything from air pollution and investments in renewables to corporations’ and governments’ climate actions.

“There are challenges when you’re covering climate change in a country like India where our developmental needs are so immediate,” says Datta.

“You need electricity, you need industries to grow to provide financial equity to a large part of the population. In some ways, climate imperatives take a back seat.”

ETPrime was launched in 2018 as a premium, subscriber-only platform by India’s The Times Group with the aim of providing analysis, data and deeper reads to explore news stories and trends. Much of its reporting is focused on markets news and industry sectors, such as telecom, automotive and pharma, which makes its environment coverage both stand out and a challenge.

Demystifying climate coverage

In Datta’s experience, readers disengage with or ignore climate change reporting if they don’t see how it affects them and the same is true for business news subscribers. To overcome this, ETPrime tries to “demystify” climate coverage, not just talking about the science behind it but the policies and economic imperatives it is linked to.

Politics and the economy can drive how seriously climate is considered as an issue, says Datta, and the interests of ETPrime’s business-focused, subscriber audience members are governed by similar forces. By including environment coverage from launch and exploring its connections to policy and the economy, ETPrime signals the importance of this topic to its members while aligning coverage with their needs.

For business publications, in particular, readers expect to gain something from a climate story, especially in a subscription-driven outlet, says Datta, “whether that’s in terms of their investment strategies or for CEOs on how they take their organisations forward.”

Despite this, the topics of environment stories that most engage ETPrime’s audience are often surprising. A series on the impact of climate change on a particular fish species, the Indian oil sardine, was an early hit and told the story of one aspect of climate change’s impact on India’s coastal economy. Another on climate change-induced migration involved reporting from two states – one, a coastal economy, and the other hilly – and was a chance to move away from the “doom and gloom reportage” of climate to explore who and what is left behind after migration and “how the social and economic fabric of these places has been affected”.

“In news coverage, we don’t always see the impact of climate change on our lives specifically, so sometimes stories do uncommonly well because we’ve given a face to the story that the audience hasn’t seen on a regular basis,” says Datta. “In Hindi we call it masala – the spice of the story lies in the voices of people.”

Long-form reporting and series allow ETPrime to explore the complex nature of environment stories and “inject more data” into reporting. Data on climate issues, such as air pollution, can often be hard to find outside of metropolitan areas in India, says Datta, so her reporting is also crucial to uncovering data and gaps that need to be addressed.

How many people subscribe to ETPrime as a result of reading a story, the number of readers and how deeply people scroll are all measures of success for published stories. Given the site’s core audience, the team knows that comparing environment stories’ performance with stock markets coverage, for example, isn’t useful. Environment stories must be looked at differently and specifically from other beats when measuring their success. Covering policy developments, for example, may not attract a large audience, but a failure to cover policy related to environment and climate would also mean a failure to “put pressure on the absence of the correct kind of policy” in some crucial areas, says Datta.

Deepening audience engagement

Given Datta’s commitment to bring out the human face of climate change stories for a business audience, pandemic-related travel restrictions and safety measures have made it difficult to “talk to the people facing these crises”. This has led to more coverage of how different industries and business models in India are responding to climate change.

“We are still trying to figure out what works for our audience,” says Datta. More on sustainability, deep dives into topics, explainers and podcasts are all being explored as ways to deepen engagement with ETPrime’s audience and expand beyond data-driven reporting when it comes to the environment. The title’s virtual conference strand, ETPrime Talks, has already held an event on coal industries and could be used to explore more climate stories with the audience in the future. For Datta, there are many to tell: “It’s about equity, gender, water, food, education, health – it’s a beat that touches everything.”

The author of this article, Laura Oliver, is a UK-based freelance journalist. Twitter @LauraOliver

WORLD NEWS DAY is a global campaign, organised by the World Editors Forum and Canadian Journalism Foundation, to draw attention to the value of journalism. On 28 September 2021 more than 300 newsrooms will showcase the work they are doing on climate change. Join the campaign.


WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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