Tough Times for Environmental Journalism

But Nonprofits Offer Alternative Funding

Environmental journalism is facing one of its toughest-ever periods, struggling for a place at the forefront of news coverage amid bureau closures and budget cuts, attendees at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami heard Wednesday.
Peter Thomson, environment editor of Public Radio International’s The World, was met with knowing nods from delegates during his introduction of the conference’s afternoon meet-and-greet discussion, entitled “International Environmental Reporting: Fertile Field or Fallow Ground?”
The conference comes “at a time when the need for environmental reporting is probably greater than it’s ever been, but the support for it is the worst it’s been in a generation or more in these times of austerity,” he said.
Falling circulation is also cramping newspapers’ ability to inform and educate the public about increasingly critical topics such as climate change and rising sea levels.
“There are still people who are doing tremendous, great journalism with a high degree of integrity, but they are reaching less of an audience,” Mr.  Thomson told The Miami Planet following the session.
“It’s a growing question for environmental journalists: How do you continue bringing important environmental issues and education to the public when you have difficulties like no funding and, in many cases, not even having a job anymore?”
Panelists offered an answer. Representing nonprofits that offer support for journalists wanting to cover under-reported topics and neglected stories that media outlets cannot fund – but which editors can still accommodate if others pick up the tab – they encouraged reporters not to abandon hope.
The International Reporting Project, based at Johns Hopkins University, has, for example, allowed more than 300 U.S. journalists to travel to 100-plus countries over the last 13 years to report on crucial issues that might otherwise have failed to find the spotlight, John Schidlovsky, its director, told the audience.
The Earth Journalism Network has, among other actions, launched a fund that is paying to take 18 journalists from around the world to December’s World Climate Summit in South Africa, said its director, David Fahn, and has worked since 2004 to “enhance the quality and quantity of environmental coverage” by training 1,600 reporters on topics such as the health of the oceans, biodiversity issues and climate change.
“I personally believe there’s a great deal of scope now for nonprofits supporting journalism and we should be encouraging that,” he said.
Other panelists represented the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Center for Strategic International Studies’ Transatlantic Media Network.
“Part of what we wanted to address today is helping people get the support they need from the organizations that are out there to bridge this increasing gap between good reporting and the resources that are available to do it,” said Mr. Thomson.

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