Need for Environmental Reporting as Great as it’s Ever Been

At Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, we believe there is always a need for more, higher-quality reporting about the environment, even — arguably more so — during a pandemic. Of course, reporting becomes more difficult at a time when journalists’ movements are restricted and when the public’s focus seems limited to the health crisis.

As the spread of Covid-19 began shutting down economies around the globe, EJN was in the process of organizing journalism trainings and awarding grants across several of our programs to support reporting on vital issues, such as climate-induced migration, conservation in East Africa, and the impacts of air pollution on public health.

The reporters who received those grants are currently doing background research, data collection and expert interviews as they wait for a time when they can safely begin their field reporting. 

In the interim, EJN has worked to strengthen our catalogue of resources, in particular by organizing a series of webinars on the links between the spread of disease and environmental change. We’ve brought in experts to talk about zoonotic disease and the threat that increasing human-wildlife interactions pose to human health. We’ve also hosted online workshops on data collection and invited reporters to talk about covering the wildlife trade – one sector that has gained a spotlight during the Covid-19 pandemic.

EJN’s next webinar will feature Rachel Kyte, Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and former Chief Climate Officer at the World Bank and Time Magazine reporter Justin Worland, who will join us on June 2 at 9am EDT to discuss what the climate crisis looks like in a Covid-altered world. Register for the webinar.

We’ve also linked up with partners at Columbia’s Earth Institute to host video discussions on how the press is covering this crisis. The latest brought together climate scientists, risk analysts and reporters as Cyclone Amphan headed toward India and Bangladesh to discuss how they can better share information to help vulnerable communities boost their resilience.

And, importantly, we’ve reached out directly to our current grantees to learn about the challenges they’re facing and what they need to help them through this crisis – one surrounded by misinformation while also taking a toll on professional media outlets capable of responding to this “infodemic.”

Here’s some of what we’re hearing: 

  • Journalists are considered “essential workers” In many places, but they don’t have the same protection doctors and medical staff do, so the risks they face when going out are higher. 
  • Many reporters are worried about lay-offs or reduced hours. Long-term, many worry about the survival of media outlets that were already operating on razor-thin margins as advertising dollars dry up.
  • Many have focused on stories about the role the wildlife trade and environmental degradation has on the spread of disease.  They’re also investigating the affect the pandemic will have on vulnerable communities, many of which are already struggling to respond to environmental challenges.
  • Freelance reporters say they’re having a particularly hard time getting assignments due to publications facing budget constraints and uncertainty for the future.

“Our media organisation has implemented a 20 percent salary reduction from all the correspondents and employees due to a drop in business; this is also slowing down the morale since I have to adjust my budget since the prices of various essential commodities remains high.” — George Otieno, Kenya (Indian Ocean Workshop Grantee)

“The main problem I am facing: the government office is providing misinformation. They have no coordination. So I have to spend much time for fact checking and cross checking.” — Shamsuddin Illius, Bangladesh (Bay of Bengal Story Grantee)

Among the needs EJN is hearing from our members and grantees are: Skills and training for data journalism and investigative reporting; webinars focused on coronavirus and climate change; tools to help fact-check and combat misinformation; tools to report remotely and reach new audiences, for instance through engagement or podcasting; financial support, both for individual journalists and media outlets as a whole; safety tips and psychological support; and access to new research and experts.

We’re working to respond to these needs as a network and through the efforts of Internews as a whole.

Finally, we also asked our grantees how the Covid-19 crisis makes them think about the crises facing our climate, biodiversity and our oceans. Here’s some of what they said:

“Societies around the world have illustrated a remarkable ability to act at the moment. This means that with the political goodwill, we have the ability as a global society to take radical action against climate change but the urgent need has to be felt by all both from the Global South to North.”—Sophie Mbugua, Kenya (East Africa Conservation and Wildlife Story Grantee)

“It’s frustrating because as an environmental journalist, I belong to that community of people, which has been raising the issue of climate crisis and witnessed how the governments failed to heed to any warning. And now, when all bets are off, and you see the predictions unfold in front of your eyes, you can’t even say, “see, I told you so” and feel better. And like always, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the biggest polluters all are sitting pretty, and the person on the street is paying the price for their incompetence.” —Ishan Kukreti, India (Asia-Pacific Investigative Story Grantee)

“Pandemics will impact the most vulnerable communities first, and in India, the communities that live on the coasts are marginalized to begin with … I think this crisis has brought to the mainstream media the real story of how millions of Indians live.” — Sweta Daga, India (Indian Ocean Workshop Grantee)

“As we know that this disease of COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term. They are the same but their effects vary.”—Hassan Istiila, Somalia (Indian Ocean Workshop Grantee)

“The climate crisis is still not real enough for the middle class, urban folks to get affected by, and act upon it. The impact is still limited to areas that are geographically vulnerable. COVID-19 makes everyone sit up and notice because the fear of contracting the disease is highly personal. I think it’s that personal part is what makes it real for people.” — Supriya Vohra, India (Indian Ocean Workshop Grantee)

“The pandemic has forced decision makers or individuals to take drastic measures while changing routine behaviors. It has shown us how individual efforts such as social distancing, can help overcome major challenges.” — Manisha Deena, Mauritius (Indian Ocean Workshop Grantee)

EJN will continue to bring you updates on our network, particularly as our members’ stories are published. And, as always, we’ll continue our efforts to enhance the quantity and quality of environmental reporting.