Nuclear Weapons

Exploring Opportunities to Strengthen Nuclear Weapons Reporting

March 2024


As nuclear threats rise, fostering communities of journalists covering nuclear weapons issues holds promise for increasing quality reporting on this global challenge.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the media landscape saw a surge in coverage of nuclear weapons-related issues. However, this attention swiftly waned, despite escalating risks of nuclear conflict and warnings from UN Secretary-General António Guterres about the heightened nuclear threat, rivaling the tensions of the Cold War era.

Taking note of this, the Stanley Center for Peace and Security, as an organization that designs journalism and media programming and that values the role independent journalism plays in building better-informed societies and more accountable institutions, sought to learn more about the needs and challenges of journalists covering nuclear weapons. This led us to also consider how needs might be met to encourage and sustain quality journalism about nuclear weapons and related policy over time.

While nuclear reporting presents unique challenges distinct from other global issues, the Stanley Center drew inspiration from established networks of journalists covering climate change. To this end, the Stanley Center collaborated with Impact Architects to conduct a comprehensive analysis of various climate reporting networks. Through desk research and interviews, Impact Architects examined nine active climate reporting networks, aiming to glean insights into their strategies for nurturing supportive journalist communities committed to producing impactful climate reporting.

Additionally, Impact Architects, in partnership with the Stanley Center and Atomic Reporters, administered a survey to journalists, editors, and media professionals to understand their needs and obstacles in covering nuclear weapons-related issues. Leveraging the insights from the survey and the climate reporting network analysis, the Stanley Center and Impact Architects convened two stakeholder consultations to delve deeper into the challenges and opportunities in nuclear reporting.

This research uncovered significant synergies between the practices employed by climate reporting networks to enhance field capacity and what journalists covering nuclear issues might require.

While no single approach emerged as a blueprint for fostering journalist communities covering the nuclear domain, the findings offer valuable lessons for organizations, funders, and stakeholders seeking to increase and enable quality nuclear reporting.

Key Insights

Feedback from surveys and stakeholder consultations underscores the potential of nurturing engaged journalist communities to expand and strengthen quality nuclear-related reporting. Cultivating and sustaining such communities necessitates multifaceted support and targeted interventions, focusing on several leverage points:

  • Financial and Capacity-Building Support. Funding that enables interested journalists to dedicate more attention and time to reporting more deeply and regularly on nuclear weapons issues can directly result in quality published stories. It also has a validating effect, encouraging these journalists—and journalists with less experience—to continue reporting on the topic.
  • Tailored Opportunities that Address Specific Needs. Cultivating and sustaining a community (or communities) of journalists allows for an organized, centralized approach to providing journalists opportunities to access relevant training, secure appropriate resources to pursue reporting, find mentors or potential collaborators, and, over the long term, build knowledge and skills that improve reporting. Importantly, journalists’ needs and challenges should be assessed regularly.
  • Editorial Prioritization. With the demise of arms control, the growth and modernization of weapons arsenals, and states threatening use or the development of weapons, nuclear-focused stories are likely to have increasing news value in the near term. More journalists need to be ready to report effectively on these issues from a variety of angles, and editors and newsrooms should be prepared to provide consistent, accurate, and compelling coverage with relevance to their audiences.
  • Building Audience Demand. Greater audience demand relies on a certain level of public understanding of these issues. A 2023 Carnegie Corporation of New York and Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs study suggests that there’s a hunger for more information and a better understanding of nuclear weapons and policy.  The leverage points described above can play a role in building knowledge and salience of the topic among audiences, leading to a virtuous cycle of news coverage that continues to serve and grow public interest.

What’s Next

Despite the spike and drop in nuclear news coverage after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there are many recent examples of outstanding nuclear-focused journalism and media content that are reaching eager audiences, including the New York Times’ series, At the Brink, from W.J. Hennigan, and Matias Hammer’s reporting on the role of the U.S. National and Nuclear Risk Reduction Center for Time—made possible with support from philanthropic grants—as well as the powerful new Netflix documentary series, Turning Point: The Bomb and the Cold War.  These examples show the promise of what could happen if this level of quality reporting and storytelling were scaled up to match the moment.

If supported communities of journalists are properly resourced, trained, and given opportunities to cover nuclear weapons issues, there is significant potential to not only bolster the amount of reporting from a larger pool of journalists, but also to elevate public discourse on this critical global challenge.

In step with the insights gleaned from our work with Impact Architects, the Stanley Center is co-organizing a nuclear reporting training program for journalists in Asia in the first half of 2024 and discussing other ideas with partners and individual journalists and stakeholders to develop future programs.

If you’d like to stay informed about collaborative opportunities to increase and strengthen reporting on nuclear weapons issues, or know others who would be interested in joining or growing a community, please contact us and share this post.