[email protected]: Building a Network Model for 21st Century Journalism

Many mainstream media outlets no longer have the time or the money to spend investing in news outside a fairly narrow band of headline fodder. The result? Important international stories are slipping through the cracks every day. Some of the most important of these stories are those that inform critical conversations on shared global issues such as the environment. 

We are in the midst of a massive planetary transformation, dubbed the Anthropocene, where humans are the primary actors in ecological change.  Millions of local, regional and national policies and choices are aggregated at a global level. In this context, local stories have powerful global ramifications.  Our mission at the Earth Journalism Network (EJN) is to increase the quality and quantity of local and regional journalism, bringing environmental news to a wide range of  audiences directly from the source.  These stories offer powerful insights both locally and in the global conversation about the environment.

As EJN celebrates our 10th anniversary and reflects on our successes and lessons learned, we realize that the most critical element of our work, and the piece that enables us to achieve our mission, is the network itself.  The “N” in the Earth Journalism Network describes over 5,000 environmental journalists living in 119 countries who are passionate about reporting on the environment.  EJN is the sum of all the incredible, hard-working and dedicated journalists working in the field to tell stories that matter.

Our job at EJN is to support this global network and help it continue to thrive. We are proud to report that over the last 10 years, we have also helped launch local networks of environmental journalists in countries where they didn’t exist, built their capacity where they did, helped to produce and disseminate their work, and supported the most promising reporters and editors through fellowships and grants. 

We’ve trained more than 4,000 journalists, who’ve produced nearly 5,000 stories during our activities alone, not to mention what they produce when they return to their media houses.  And then there are the impacts on the ground, which are much harder to predict  and quantify, but exciting to see. Our journalists have helped save a national park in Vietnam, shut down polluting factories in China, uncovered a multinational wildlife smuggling ring, and helped get a dam project shelved in Myanmar.

The Network is who we are, and we on the EJN staff are deeply committed to doing more for our members. As the profession of journalism continues to undergo radical transformation, we have found the network helps smooth the way for some of these changes, enabling journalists in remote locations and in data-poor environments to take advantage of our training, capacity-building and support, and to learn from and engage with each other. They are acquiring new skills and developing new models to support their work.

One of the developments we are most excited about, and where we see our Network playing a critical, global role, is through our technology development and partnerships. In particular, GeoJournalism is the practice of combining data with stories and maps. These data sets are used by reporters on the ground to tell better stories, an  excellent example being InfoAmazonia, the first journalism platform to display continuously up-to-date data from all nine Amazon basin countries.

The Brazilian team that created the website built partnerships with Amazon communicators and data providers to make data and stories available for other journalists, academics, and the public at large to download and share in their projects. EJN has been working with InfoAmazonia from the beginning to launch and then scale this approach to a global level by building partnerships with local news networks and data providers in other critical bioregions.

For example, this year we are launching a partnership to share stories from our regional GeoJournalism sites -- including Ekuatorial in Indonesia and other forthcoming ones -- with Global Forest Watch (GFW) and help verify forest change detected from satellite with reporting from journalists. This partnership illustrates how digital technology can be leveraged to connect the global audience of GFW with local news sources they may have never known about.

In the next 10 years, we can leverage the network as a global, professional support system where members can share their portfolios, interests, abilities and stories. This network 2.0 will ensure better collaboration among our members and allow outside groups to source journalists with specific skills and capabilities. We believe we are building a new network model for 21st century journalism and the next decade will see it coming into fruition.

The other vision we have is to invest more in R&D.  There are some new technologies on the horizon that have the potential to radically change the way we do journalism and even the way we understand our personal environment. 

Sensors, in particular, can be a game-changer by giving journalists and citizen scientists, and perhaps eventually the general public, the ability to measure the quality of the air they’re breathing, the water they’re drinking, the radiation they’re being exposed to, and so on.  These sensors have the capacity to transform “data deserts” into oceans of valuable information.  But to make use of this data, we need trained journalists who can understand it and use it to tell valuable and meaningful stories.

In the next 10 years, our goals will remain the same – to improve the quality and quantity of environmental journalism. Although the tools we use to reach those goals will continue to evolve quickly – and who knows what new possibilities may emerge; given where we were just 10 years ago, it’s exciting to think about the next decade -- our commitment to the network will remain at the center of what we do.

Local voices matter. They are what animate the stories and the data. They help make an issue real for people. The Earth Journalism Network is composed of many small teams of talented people -- journalists, designers, developers, editors, scientists (storytellers all) --  creating rich and compelling news stories about some of the most important issues of our time. Working together, we are dedicated to bringing these issues to life.  

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