Climate mentorship in Nepal raises opportunities and challenges for environmental journalists

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Earth Journalism Network, Kathmandu, Nepal

It has been more than three years since I left my job as the Environment Correspondent at Nepal’s largest selling English daily, The Himalayan Times. To date, no one has been hired to replace me and it's unclear if I will end up being the newspaper's first and last environmental reporter. If environmental journalists can not even find work at the country's largest selling newspaper, why would young journalists want to pursue this important line of work? Across the country, newspapers are staffing their newsrooms without science journalists. How can we solve this problem?

nepal mentor blog

Ramesh Bhushal, on the left, during the meeting with the participants of EJN Climate Mentors program in Nepal

Interestingly, the The Himalayan Times' website does have a separate environment section, but it's filled with articles from global outlets, which neglect local stories and perspectives. Whether or not Nepal's newsrooms will prioritize an environmental beat is a big question for a country sandwiched between two giant emerging economies -- India and China -- and highly prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, landslides and floods. The World Bank lists Nepal as one of the world's most vulnerable countries.

But here, environmental reporters struggle to find sustainable work and many express frustration that their newsrooms are consistently hostile towards environmental issues. The beat frequently fights for space and these issues rarely get a mention on the agenda at daily or weekly editorial meetings. To break this trend, Nepal needs resilient journalists who work tirelessly to produce better stories and doggedly struggle to justify the importance of environmental issues to managers and other top editorial staff. Local journalists and stories matter a lot.

When EJN staff approached me with the idea of mentoring environment reporters in developing countries, I immediately agreed to it. But finding journalists committed to environmental reporting and keen to devote time to learning national to global environmental issues was tough. After couple of weeks, I was able to find three enthusiastic reporters who write for English and Nepali language dailies and weeklies. Riwaj Rai from Republica English daily, Pragati Dhakal from Karobar (Nepal’s first business daily) and Ramesh Kumar from the investigative weekly Himal Magazine.

What obstacles do young environmental reporters face in Nepal? The quick answer — newsrooms don't prioritize the topic, leading to many newcomers seeking work elsewhere in more popular beats. Young environmental journalists also lack a solid scientific background on the issues and struggle to link local environmental issues to global trends.

During my first meeting with the mentees, we discussed environmental reporting as a untapped market with ample opportunities. But many still expressed doubts on their ability to change the attitudes of newsroom management to these issues. Another major hurdle? The severe lack of funding to adequately pursue important stories. 

In last four months, the mentees have engaged with various stories on climate change and other environmental issues and I have provided assistance on finding possible stories, researching background to the issues and helping them find sources to interview. Despite their fears over the sustainability of this career path, we've already had some success.

One of the fellows recently informed me that he received a scholarship to study environmental sustainability in China and thanked me for the encouragement that helped him continue to pursue environmental issues. Another shared that he had abandoned prior plans to move to Canada in order to continue on the path to becoming an environmental journalist in Nepal. In spite of this progress, environmental journalism remains vulnerable and journalists must continue to battle disinterested editors, low financial incentives and a lack of understanding of basic scientific concepts. It is possible to bridge the knowledge gap through mentorship, but the question of sustainability remains a key obstacle to building more robust reporting on these important issues.