Training Nepal's next generation of environmental journalists

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Earth Journalism Network, Kathmandu, Nepal

I’m not the only one who is concerned that fewer and fewer young, talented journalists are joining the ranks of environmental reporters in Nepal. A couple of weeks ago, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Nepal office held an event on environmental issues and media, but the room was full of familiar faces. “Everybody knew each other, so there was no need for formal introductions,” I recall hearing from one of the participants.

Ramesh Bhushal participates in a webinar event for EJN's Climate Journalism Mentorship Program

But it’s no laughing matter. Anil Manandhar, WWF’s country representative, also sees a shift. “This is why I am worried,” he said, “It’s the same set of people and faces that I used to see more than a decade ago. Where is the new generation?”

Manandhar says lack of new journalists reporting on environmental issues could seriously undermine future coverage in Nepal. It’s a similar situation, he says, to a helicopter crash that killed over 20 of the country’s leading conservationists in 2007. The tragedy led to a leadership vacuum in the conservation sector.

“We realized how important it is to groom new generation in any sector after that crash,” he said. “One generation of conservation leaders died and the new generation wasn’t immediately ready to take over. I think this is lacking in Nepal’s environmental reporting too.”

Under the Earth Journalism Network’s mentorship program, we’re striving to achieve similar goals. The program, which began nearly a year ago, is training the next generation of environmental reporters and leaders in countries around the world.

Being a mentor is no easy task, but it’s an important role in a country that is feeling the brunt of impacts from the changing climate. Early one morning, I received a call from one of my mentees who was unable to get complex scientific language translated into Nepali. I spent about half an hour with him and realized how hard it is for a newcomer to understand the technicalities of complex environmental topics like climate change. Many of these specifics are never taught in journalism classes.

I often receive calls, online messages and emails from mentees seeking information on possible story ideas, new research and experts to speak with. In some cases, I help them simplify these complex ideas in their writing to make it more accessible for their audience. I also provide feedback once stories are published and engage in lengthy discussions on how a story could be improved.

Ramesh Bhushal regularly meets with young journalists interested in covering environmental issues

Nepal has quite strong legacy of environmental reporting. The Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) was established in 1986, almost a decade before the primary network of journalists—the Federation of Nepali Journalists—was officially formed. NEFEJ was also responsible for creating South Asia’s first community radio, known as Radio Sagarmatha, which today is widely known for its coverage of environmental issues.

So why is the charm of environmental reporting fading in a country with such a strong history? NEFEJ’s membership is declining, and each year it’s becoming more and more difficult to find new recruits. Many say the lack of mentorship is to blame. “We seriously lack good trainings for newcomers,” said Rajendra Dahal, one of the veteran investigative journalists who headed NEFEJ decades ago. “We failed to keep that enthusiasm we used have in 90s and once you don’t get newcomers in good numbers…the issue gets less priority.” During the decade that I’ve been with NEFEJ, I can also see that things have changed.

Universities don’t have environmental journalism courses in Nepal so the only way to get involved is through an established newsroom or by one’s own self-interest. “When I started reporting I found [environmental issues] interesting, however, I didn’t have any formal education or training on environmental reporting,” said Riwaj Rai, one of my mentees.

It has been three decades since the establishment of democracy in Nepal and the media industry is booming. Currently, the country has about 500 local radios in operation, more than 50 televisions, dozens of national newspapers and hundreds of weeklies and regional newspapers. “The good part of mentorship is that you can find someone that you can ask anything without hesitation and at the time when you need it,” said another mentee Pragati Dhakal. “It helped to boost my confidence when I speak to experts, otherwise I used to hesitate to ask questions due to the fear that I might be wrong or what I am asking is very simple,” she added.

At this critical juncture in the health of our planet, it’s more important than ever that Nepal begins to train its next generation of environmental reporters. Mentorship should be integrated into every newsroom as it’s a critical tool for bringing capable people on board and positioning new leaders. Nepal’s rich legacy of environmental journalism depends on it.