Environmental journalists are seen as the voices of the planet, who have to educate on its behalf. A large part of their work regards writings on the non-human world, and the impact this can have on humanity. It requires a knowledge of scientific practice and a keen interest in environmental policy and organizations.
One of the first steps towards the integration of environmental journalism into mainstream media was the creation of the Society of Environmental Journalists in 1990, and many academic programs teach environmental journalism as a core part of their teaching.
2018 was a huge year for environmental journalism. Greenpeace was among major environmental organizations that cited the major stories being covered by environmental journalists, The New York times talked of the growing disappointment over the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, ProPublica discussed the fact that America saw the California wildfires coming and argued they were a result of systematic governmental failures, and The Guardian discussed what it felt was the main driver of the ‘migrant caravan’ – the impact of climate change in South and Central America.
Crucial actors in environmental journalism include the winners of the SEAL Environmental Journalism Award, including Damian Carrington of the Guardian, Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times and Julie Cart of CALmatters. Media organisations that are seen as stalwarts of environmental reporting include the UK based The Ecologist and Digg Environment which lists viral climate change news. The Climate Desk is an independent collaborative organisation on the impact of climate change.
Environmental journalism will increasingly become more relevant as climate change-related issues begin to affect more and more people. Direct action related to climate change adaptation and mitigation is urgently required, as we have already seen in the sinking South Island Pacific Nations and the increasing climate-related tensions in North Africa. Environmental journalism will be at the forefront of this as we need independent, unbiased reporting on the effects of environmental change on society.
As stated by Eco Business, Asia’s Pacific Sustainable Community “from acting as a watchdog on errant corporations to raising awareness, the media has an important role to play in fighting climate change and environmental degradation.”
Environmental journalism is seen by many as one of the most dangerous to report o[U2] n, as stated by Vanity Fair and the Pulitzer Centre. This is because it includes reporting on controversies relating to the environment that contrasts with influential business deals, government treaties and unlawful practices. There are many examples of environmental journalists caught up in these controversies, with many facing prison time, or worse. A representative of Reporters Without Borders has highlighted this worrying trend, stating that 15% of the cases that the group monitors worldwide are now linked to the environment.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reports that there are many challenges facing environmental journalism, such as a lack of rigorous training of journalists who write on scientific matters. Also, in many countries there is limited access to governmental knowledge on environmental issues, and interviewing citizens is also fraught with jeopardy.
The UK and the USA have established voices in environmental journalism, which is highlighted in the organisations and awards that are listed above. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that developing countries are facing the first debilitating effects of climate change. Those voices also need to be heard in the global news flow. It is only through factual, inclusive and far reaching reporting that more people will become aware of the challenges that climate change poses.