Giving audiences what they want: a look at Norway’s public broadcaster’s climate change coverage strategy

NRK overhauled its climate coverage after its audience asked for better reporting on the topic.
Three people on snowmobiles driving through a snowy landscape.

Scientists ride their snowmobiles through the arctic landscape near Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Four years ago, Norway’s national broadcaster set out to completely reshape its coverage of climate change, restructuring reporters’ positions in the newsroom, and investing in producing fewer, but more widely read, climate stories.

On views, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s dedicated climate coverage now consistently receives more views than the rest of the newsroom’s coverage, head climate editors say. In 2023, stories produced by the organisation’s climate teams outperformed the average story on the website in 11 months out of 12, often dramatically. 

The experience of NRK, as the broadcaster is known, seems to undercut a pervasive myth among many news organisations: that audiences simply aren’t interested in climate change journalism.

Details of NRK’s climate strategy were shared by Hans Cosson-Eide, editor-in-chief of climate and technology news at the broadcaster, and Astrid Rommetveit, now editor-in-chief of climate and investigations. Both journalists spoke with the Oxford Climate Journalism Network as part of a guest lecture on building a climate strategy. 

The strong viewer figures for climate stories don’t reflect a “secret sauce” for climate coverage, adds Cosson-Eide; and the stats also don’t cover the broadcaster’s entire slate of climate coverage, which is produced by other desks including politics and business as well as the dedicated climate teams.

The broadcaster’s climate coverage has stretched across a wide variety of topics, from visual data investigations on how climate is reshaping Norway, to stories about how climate intersects with the pandemic, explainers on renewable energy and heatwaves, coverage of climate protests, and more. 

One piece, about the impact of climate change on oceans, has been viewed nearly a million times—in a country of about 5.5 million people. 

“The fact is, that if you make a good climate story, people will want to read it,” says Cosson-Eide.

“The CEO has to be part of the discussions” 

In January 2018, the broadcaster received a stark message in the results of a survey polling both its viewers and journalists: climate change wasn’t getting enough coverage.

“The risk of losing legitimacy is bigger if we don’t do this, than if we do,” NRK’s then-CEO Thor Gjermund Eriksen declared while calling for a systematic shift in the broadcaster’s approach to climate journalism.

For years, NRK’s climate coverage had suffered from the challenges familiar to newsrooms around the world, said Rommetveit, who has covered climate change for NRK since 2008. 

The topic was seen as technical, depressing, and a long-running crisis, without the natural news hooks of an election or earnings season to keep it on the news agenda. 

Meanwhile, the broadcaster’s climate journalists had been pushing internally for years for a climate strategy, and getting nowhere. Often, asking for better climate coverage was framed as “activism”. Responsibility for the topic frequently fell between the cracks of different beats or simply flailed when a handful of committed journalists were off-shift. 

“In the first years that I was working on climate journalism, I was working a lot on my own,” says Rommetveit. “It was my interests. It was my knowledge to determine what stories were made.” 

The survey was a “tipping point” she says, because it included stark feedback from a group of journalists who weren’t involved in daily climate coverage.

It was a key factor in getting the support of the newsroom at large and prompted change to come from the top. 

“The CEO has to be a part of the discussions,” Rommetveit adds. 

After agreeing that NRK needed to produce better climate journalism, senior leadership, along with a group of journalists who weren’t climate specialists, decided to figure out what better climate coverage would look like. 

Initial conversations covered everything from where the broadcaster drew the line between activism and journalism, to which editorial tone would balance fear and hope, to which audiences to focus on and where to put resources. 

The first result of the Climate Strategy, launched at the start of 2020, was a series of public guidelines laying out how NRK covers climate, framing coverage as key to reinforcing Norwegian democracy and underpinning public debate.

But “the important societal debates now revolve around how to adapt to, or brake, global warming,” the guidelines declared. “Our coverage should primarily be about how action is being taken, not if action is necessary.” 

The clear stance, along with guidance on providing scientific context when covering climate denial and vested interests, has both allowed journalists to find a clear line between journalism and activism and to feel “safe” doing their work, says Rommetveit.

That has helped the broadcaster deal with claims that coverage of climate is politically motivated, and prevented such blowback from shaping the broadcaster’s climate strategy.

Part of the challenge has been to produce stories that don’t prioritise “running after whatever people get angry about, or that triggers some deep-rooted emotion,” says Cosson-Eide. “But instead looking for stories that are relatable, but also say something meaningful about what’s at stake and what we have to do as a society.”

“Our government has promised to deal with this crisis” 

Once the guidelines were clear, the broadcaster settled on a two-part structure for reporting climate stories. 

The climate news team sits at NRK’s headquarters in Oslo, with reporters rotating on and off the general news beat, led by Cosson-Eide. This structure has helped ensure climate gets regular news coverage, rather than being pushed aside by competing priorities, and has raised the climate knowledge across the news team. 

Meanwhile, the investigative and features team, led by Rommetveit, sits in Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, located on the country’s west coast. This team focuses on longer-term projects and includes reporters with more specialised knowledge. 

Both climate teams were instructed to focus on producing better, but fewer, climate stories, putting human faces at the heart of creative storytelling and sending both reporters and photographers into the field to build visually interesting stories with first-hand reporting. 

The teams meet regularly and both work with other desks in the newsroom to help underpin climate coverage that intersects with politics, economics, society or other topics.

The reporting has occasionally addressed what Cosson-Eide calls a “paradox” at the heart of the country’s climate debate. Norway is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter and the third-largest exporter of natural gas. 

Even as Norway’s energy system has switched dramatically to renewables, in 2024, over a third of state revenue still comes from the petroleum industry. This year, investment in Norway’s oil and gas sector is also expected to reach a record high

Launched on the eve of the global pandemic, the broadcaster’s climate strategy was also tested almost immediately, Cosson-Eide and Rommetveit said. And since the pandemic, climate coverage has had to compete for space and resources with [pieces on] the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the war in the Middle East, and the cost of living crisis.

Without the strategy in place, the broadcaster’s climate coverage would have struggled to hold onto the prominence it needed, Cosson-Eide says—a dynamic that many other newsrooms have struggled with over the last four years as crisis after crisis has defined the news agenda.

“It takes a long time, and you don’t see it from day to day, but when we look back at what our journalism looked like in 2019, it’s quite a big shift,” he adds. 

Four years later, NRK is now updating its climate strategy, Cosson-Eide says. In the years since the first strategy went into place, climate change has become more obvious to everyday Norwegians and has climbed the ladder of political priorities. 

A new strategy is expected to focus more on how the broadcaster should deal with climate misinformation, and how to produce more climate stories that intersect with other beats, he says. 

“I think we should have as a goal increasing the understanding of climate change as an interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral threat to society,” he adds. Stories that add a climate “lens” to topics that are already in the news tend to be well-read and newsy, he adds.

Much of what the strategy advocates sounds surprisingly old school: putting resources into reporting, and looking at climate coverage as firmly inside the mandate of a public broadcaster to educate the public, and hold the government to account. 

“We take as a starting point that society is facing a big and well-documented challenge and that our government has promised to deal with this crisis, through the Paris Agreement,” Cosson-Eide says. “Our journalism on science isn’t activism, and neither is holding political leaders, businesses and others to account for the promises that they’ve made.”