What is Environmental Journalism?
Environmental journalism reports on events, trends, and issues associated with the environment. Its subject is the planet’s natural systems (plants, animals, habitats, ecosystems, atmosphere, water, climate, etc.) and the many ways in which humans interact with, affect, and depend on these systems.
Environmental journalism has its roots in nature writing, a genre with a long history starting with the early explorers and leading to prominent thinkers of the past few centuries such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold. Nature writing focuses on personal observations of nature and the author’s relationship to the natural world. Environmental journalism branched off in the 1960s, when Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring alerted people to dire problems in the environment. Environmental journalism seeks to raise awareness about environmental problems and issues and to influence policy and action to resolve them.
What do environmental journalists do?
Environmental journalists have the challenging and extremely important task of informing the public about complex issues. They work to provide accurate information about environmental topics that affect communities today and will continue to affect the planet for the foreseeable future. A public with a good understanding of the issues is better prepared to make decisions on behalf of themselves, future generations and the planet we all share.
Environmental journalists need to be fluent in the language and methods of science. They need to understand how policy decisions are made. They must be able to place current environmental events into a historical context. And, on top of all that, they must tell compelling stories, communicating complex information in ways that are relevant to people’s lives and easy for them to understand.
To become a good environmental journalist, where should I start?
A good place to begin is with some key terminology. Let's look at it in the context of reporting on environmental issues.
To investigate an issue, you need sources of information.
Primary sources are accounts of an event or phenomenon by someone who experienced it firsthand. They can be interviews, letters, photos, audio or video recordings, or other pieces of original evidence.
Secondary sources interpret primary sources. They are at least one step removed from the event or phenomenon. These are articles, books, documentaries, or other works that draw conclusions based on what is reported in primary sources.
Both of these types of sources are useful to a journalist, but it is important to know which one you are dealing with and to keep in mind that secondary sources are separated from the phenomenon by a layer of interpretation.
A journalist’s job is to provide unbiased information – facts that are not influenced by a particular point of view. A good piece of journalism is objective. It considers all the details and presents them in a fair and balanced way. It presents multiple perspectives, or ways of looking at something. The opposite of objective is subjective, or based on opinions and personal experience rather than fact.
While objectivity is important in environmental journalism, that doesn’t mean that a piece can’t advocate for a particular solution. Advocacy is supporting or arguing in favor of something. The Young Reporters for the Environment program asks you to propose at least one possible solution for the issue you cover. Your goal should be to include facts on all sides of the issue and to build a strong case for the solution you present based on those facts.