This was the message of a student-focused event this week exploring the media’s role in communicating the impact air pollution has on our lives.
‘How can we fix London’s air pollution problem’ brought together digital journalists Sam Joiner and Ryan Watts from The Times with Imperial environmental scientist Dr Audrey de Nazelle.
“There’s a lot of effort needed for understanding the message that’s positive but still hits home,” said Dr de Nazelle during the panel Q&A. “If you try to create a message that’s too scary, people are going to turn off. The balance needs to be found.”
How polluted is the air you breathe?
The panel was hosted as part of Imperial’s partnership with The Times. The year-long programme of activities aims to stimulate debate, provoke curiosity and explore the future of science, technology and culture.
The event kicked off with a presentation from Sam and Ryan showcasing The Times’ air pollution campaign, Clean Air for All, which launched in early May. They walked the audience through three interactive resources which they created for the campaign, drawing on government and World Health Organisation data plus scientific expertise to enable the public to explore the air quality on their doorsteps:
- The National Picture: An air pollution postcode checker enabling people to see how polluted the air they breathe is. The dashboard offers powerful metrics, including the equivalent number of cigarettes per month you breathe in, comparisons to other postcodes in the UK, and how far you need to move to live in an area with acceptable air quality.
- School league table: A searchable dashboard for checking air quality in schools within the Greater London area. Among the search results are the concentration of particulate pollution around a school using 20x20m squared data, how this compares to 3,200 other London schools, and projections for how air quality will change by 2030 – the target deadline for slashing pollution levels as outlined in the UK Clean Air Strategy
- Digital essay: An interactive story looking at the steps which could be taken to improve air quality in the UK. The digital essay, inspired by the click-through storytelling of Instagram Stories, features commentary from Dr de Nazelle as well as case studies of how cities elsewhere in Europe are tackling the air pollution problem.
In framing the showcase of resources, Sam and Ryan highlighted the Times and Sunday Times interactive team’s aim to create content which enhances the reader’s comprehension of a story in visually compelling ways and localises the national picture.
“The main challenge with these interactives was translating the topic to our readers in a way that was relatable and easily understandable,” explained Ryan.
Sam added: “Scientific language alone doesn’t always work well, that’s why we thought about using cigarettes as an equivalent, for example. It was something we can all get our head around.”