Since EJN launched in 2004, we have worked with thousands of journalists, media organisations and other communicators to strengthen environmental reporting across the globe. What impact has our support had? Have the stories produced as a result led to more informed conversations or inquiries, action by individuals, communities or organizations, or policy changes?
To determine answers to those questions, we’ve developed a method that allows us to investigate whether the stories we support spark change and how they do so, for instance by halting pollution at a Thai landfill or empowering communities to stand up to infrastructure projects that would be detrimental to the environment.
How we determine impact
We are in regular contact with the journalists and media organizations we support to see if they can identify changes in the world that might plausibly be connected to our work. We often do this through email or by circulating a short survey to gather information on potential impacts.
We then seek evidence aimed at answering the following questions:
a. Can we confirm the change happened as described?
b. Is there a credible link between the change noted and media stories supported by EJN? Can we gather robust evidence of this link?
c. What contribution, if any, did the support of EJN play in this outcome?
To answer these questions, we talk to people independent of our work that have the right knowledge or expertise to help shine a light on these areas. We collect evidence from different sources to crosscheck and verify the information we obtain. This helps to generate high quality evidence of how change happens.
For example, we reached out to a government official to find out whether a story published by one of our media grantees on the dangers of living in a Karachi slum had informed their decision to legalize that slum. The informant confirmed the story had indeed contributed to the government taking action and brought attention to an issue that had long been ignored.
Why we track it
We know that accurate, engaging information that resonates with people can help effect positive change. And we want to show that it does so people will understand why good journalism matters and why we need to support it.
However, it can be difficult to make a direct connection between news stories and changes in things like government policies, community practices or public behaviour. Our approach allows us to investigate changes we want to know more about. Sometimes we are able to verify a connection between real-world change and media content, but not always. Either way, this approach allows us to better understand how change occurs. And this information is valuable for our network, the media sector at large, and our donors and supporters.
How is this different from advocacy?
In an era when the news media has to fight for its very existence, when journalists come under verbal and physical attack and many places are turning into news deserts, EJN believes it is important that we understand and demonstrate the impact that good reporting can have.
Our goal in supporting improved coverage of the environment, climate change and their impacts on the health of people and the planet is not to advocate a specific position, but to inform the public and policymakers about the challenges facing society and the potential solutions to overcome them. We want to understand how such information influences public policies, behavior and debate to help us determine what types of stories, information, activities and topics are ultimately most useful.