In conversation with Star Editor-in-Chief, Irene Gentle

Star editor talks covering climate in Canadian media 

Star Editor-in-Chief talks media's role in climate crisis.
The Toronto Star is the only national Canadian newspaper to sign onto Covering Climate Now, an international journalism coalition dedicated to covering the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. The Journal spoke to Irene Gentle, The Star’s editor-in-chief, about the paper’s decision to sign onto the global initiative and its unprecedented coverage of the climate crisis in Canada.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What was making the decision to sign on to covering climate now like, and why did you feel it was an important step for the paper to take?
We obviously feel climate is an important issue. We think it’s not exactly under-covered, but maybe it’s under-focused on, given the magnitude of the issue. We felt it’s coming into a federal election, where this is going to be a focus. Climate is a big, top-of-mind issue for many Canadians, which we’ve known from our own metrics, we know it from readers, and from actual national polls. We think it’s a huge issue for younger people, too. And sometimes it feels like, especially in national media, that they don’t get a voice to the same degree, and especially again in an election year where there’s always a concentrated effort to get out the youth vote, but that doesn’t mean that they always do come out. We want to make sure that issues that we think actually will impact the future are what we’re focused on, too.
In your view, what responsibility do journalists bear when covering an issue like climate?
It’s also an excellent question because, as you know, even with what you’re doing at your school, the media itself is in kind of a financial crisis. It means that resources are always getting smaller, and they have to be put towards things that are going to make readers happy, that are things that people are going to care about. So doing things that are really important, but are not necessarily reader-grabs, becomes harder and harder to justify, they become harder and harder to do. So it mattered, and that’s where we did feel a responsibility. It’s getting harder for people to be able to put [in] these investments—it was hard for us—it was a lot of time and resources, it was very difficult for us to be able to do it. But if it was really difficult for us, it’s going to be pretty impossible for a bunch of other people. And that means that it just falls off the public agenda. Well, that’s not right.
What advice would you give to small newsrooms like The Journal interested in covering the climate crisis in their own communities?
 I think one of the things that you have to your advantage is that you are the generation that is going to have to be part of the change. That’s not taking responsibility away from my generation, or the boomer generation, but it means you guys actually have a lot more power than you might realize. I’m a really big believer, The Star is a really big believer, in partnering up with other outlets as much as possible, because that gives combined power. 
Looking forward for The Star, where do you see the paper taking its climate coverage? 
We want to build on what we’ve started. We want to be able to find where the spots are that we can make changes. We don’t want anything to be an exercise in futility. We will be looking at the policy level, again, trying to bring it home to people in a way that they can relate to it—in a way that they don’t feel they’re helpless. That’s a real difficulty issue, but I think it’s also really key. And I don’t think we’ve all nailed that. I don’t think any of us actually have really nailed that. We’ve been looking at where we can find those spots, that a) can help either change policy, or b) can help amplify the movement. It’s going to keep changing. It’s going to keep evolving. And finding a way to actually get it to reach people and politicians is an ongoing challenge.

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