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5 tips that will make you a better environmental reporter


The Global Business Journalism program is publishing a series of news reports designed to highlight global best practices in environmental and climate change coverage. This post is based on an article by Annie Jennemann first published on our partner website, the International Journalists' Network (IJNet).

From the alarming consequences of the climate crisis, to government corruption around environmental crimes and the influence of organized crime on rainforest deforestation, there is no shortage of issues for journalists to cover when it comes to the environment. More and more journalists today are becoming environmental reporters, as a result, in what was once considered a niche field.

Crystal Chow

In the lead-up to the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, IJNet and the Pamela Howard Forum on Global Crisis Reporting dove into reporting tips and tools for journalists covering the conference, and for those new to the environmental reporting beat.

Environmental journalist and IJNet Chinese Editor Crystal Chow, and Mais Katt, an investigative journalist who has covered environmental crime in Syria and is currently the Middle East Editor for the Environmental Investigative Forum, discussed the importance of environmental coverage, tools for environmental reporting, and more.

From their discussion, we have collected five tips to make you a more effective reporter on climate change and environmental issues:

1. Don't fall victim to disinformation: Climate change is real, and climate change deniers do not merit equal coverage.

Journalists are traditionally taught not to take sides in their reporting. With the climate crisis, however, there is only one side, said Chow.

“I'm not saying we should go and become activists ourselves, but I think we should be reporting the issue from the lens of justice,” she explained. “I think we should highlight [climate change’s] impact, highlight what has not been done, showcase some of the potential solutions, and make our stories relatable to people.”

If you need more information on climate change for audiences in your part of the world, the Environmental Investigative Journalism Forum can be a valuable source for you.

"With the Environmental Investigative Journalism Forum, what we are trying to do is support the journalists and provide them with information, if they need that,” Katt said.

2. You should become an expert on the science behind climate issues.

It’s essential that journalists interested in reporting on climate change increase their knowledge of the science of climate change and other environmental issues, said Katt. Fully understanding the science at hand can facilitate better reporting of issues.

This is especially important because journalists are not researchers, but storytellers, said Katt: “We need to make people understand what we are writing about, touching their minds and hearts and their feelings. In this way, we can [influence] the impact that we want or hope to happen somehow."

3. Environmental reporters should regularly collaborate with journalists who cover other beats.

A global issue transcending one single beat, coverage of the climate crisis can incorporate a variety of topics. Many environmental stories are collaborations, too, Chow noted.

“I think the key is not to try learning everything by ourselves, because we can't,” she said. “ It's all about building connections and collaborating with people with different skills and perspectives.”

Katt also emphasized the importance of cross-border stories, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa regions.

“It's very clear that [climate change] is the most important cross-border topic that we can all work on together,” Katt said. “If we have that in our mind as an organization, as the newsrooms, and also individual freelancers, then we can absolutely do something about it.”

For Chow, seeing more and more people from different fields and regions collaborating on reporting projects that address climate change represents the future of environmental coverage: “Coming from different continents and perhaps, maybe Mais and I, or anyone who is watching right now can start brainstorming projects again."

4. Maintain the trust of your news audience

Journalists should try to find stories that resonate with their audience, without exaggerating the news.

“We are not downplaying the gravity of the climate crisis, of course, but we must be as truthful and accurate as possible when communicating back,” Chow said.

Sensationalized news headlines on climate change can go hand in hand with misinformation and misused data, according to Chow. This can impact readers' trust in the reporting they come across.

“Once you put [misinformation] out there, you can’t actually take [it] back, so it is a disaster,” Chow said.

5. Use multimedia tools and various journalism approaches to cover climate issues

As the environmental journalism beat grows, so too do the ways in which it is being reported. As Global Business Journalism Professor Rick Dunham says, use the storytelling medium that most effectively tells each piece of your project, whether that is text, video, photography, podcasts or informational graphics.

You also will want to vary your journalism approaches. Some stories may be most appropriate for explanatory journalism, while others call for narrative storytelling, investigative reporting or a solutions journalism approach.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, for example, more stories from a climate perspective have incorporated investigative journalism approaches, according to Katt.

“It can also make a big change [in] the high level — governmental level — which is, I think, the most important for us in our region,” she said.

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