EJN’s Biodiversity Media Initiative Wraps Up Two Media Grants

A group of 10 people hold a country flag at an outdoor pavilion; in front of them rest block letters that read "#WCSJ 2023" and behind them is a projector screen that reads "closing ceremonies"
EJN’s Biodiversity Media Initiative Wraps Up Two Media Grants

As climate change, habitat loss and unsustainable resource extraction continue to impact the environment in devastating ways—from droughts and wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, to the mass bleaching of coral reefs—the fate of much of the planet’s biodiversity hangs in the balance. 

Environmental experts warn that biodiversity loss is irreversible and harms the function of ecosystems and those who rely on ecosystems for food, water, medicine and livelihood. 

Amidst climate and environmental crises, the media plays a crucial role in conveying the severity of the biodiversity crisis and potential solutions to curbing it. 

The most recent phase of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network’s Biodiversity Media Initiative, supported by Arcadia, began in 2020 and aims to deepen journalists’ understanding of biodiversity issues, and by extension, improve the quality of media coverage. As part of this initiative, two media grants were awarded in 2023. Oxpeckers, an investigative journalism unit focused on environmental stories in Africa, and InfoNile, a geodata journalism organization that maps water issues in the Nile basin, received EJN support for their joint project to expand the environmental crime mapping tool #WildEye. Meanwhile, Bolivia-based news platform Red Ambiental de Información (RAI), or the Environmental Information Network, used EJN support to provide travel opportunities, trainings and capacity-building workshops for environmental journalists in Bolivia and Latin America. As these two projects wrap up, we look back at their core activities and successes.

RAI travels to the World Conference of Science Journalists

RAI sent 10 Bolivian journalists to the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ)—the largest international event of its kind—in Medellín, Colombia in March 2023. RAI also organized 18 talks and workshops for the cohort on issues such as combatting misinformation and biopiracy of Indigenous knowledge and resources.

Reflecting on the conference, RAI founder and editor Eduardo Franco Berton said, “Journalists from Latin America have the opportunity to build contacts with other journalists and editors and to share ideas and experiences, and this helps in the development of future journalistic projects that can cover topics such as biodiversity loss and its different threat."

Luis Alberto Guevara, a journalist who attended WCSJ and won a reporting grant at the conference, added that "it is necessary to carry out collaborative work between the scientists who study, put forward and identify concerns, and journalists, so that the messages can lead to behavioral changes in society.”

Five speakers sit in chairs in front of a screen; one of the speakers holds a microphone and speaks
Red Ambiental de Información (RAI) founder and editor Eduardo Franco Berton (middle) takes part in a World Science Journalists Conference session in March 2023 / Credit: RAI.

RAI offers trainings and story grants

Months later, in June 2023, RAI hosted six capacity-building workshops in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, led by guest speakers and experts. Sixteen journalists attended thematic and practical trainings that explored issues such as climate change and extractivism.

Berton noted that “EJN's support was very important for the capacity building of the journalists who are members of RAI's network. The workshops (during the WCSJ and in Bolivia) were of great importance to discover new story angles related to biodiversity and conservation, sources of scientific information and the use of various digital tools to create multimedia and investigative reports.”

A speaker points at a whiteboard as a group of seated journalists watch on
A workshop for journalists organized by RAI at Fundación Socioambiental Semilla in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia / Credit: RAI.

RAI went on to provide grants for 10 environmental stories; awardees reported on a wide range of topics, from the displacement of communities and wildlife due to a new hydroelectric power plant, to the effects of deforestation on beekeeping, to the endangerment of a lizard species endemic to the Bolivian Andes.

As the project wrapped up, Berton reflected: 

“Seeing the end products is very satisfying, as it is to see the feedback from our audience, their comments, and also, to see that civil society organizations are using our content for educational purposes and in the defense of Bolivian biodiversity.”

Looking ahead, RAI plans to produce a special report on the threats of biodiversity in Bolivia and Latin America as well as a documentary on the Bolivian Amazon. RAI’s latest biodiversity work can be found here.

Oxpeckers and InfoNile train 'data wranglers'

With EJN support, Oxpeckers and InfoNile expanded their project #Wildeye, a digital tool for journalists that maps data on seizures, arrests, court cases and conventions related to wildlife trafficking. Journalists were trained to collect data from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, as well as from four new countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Ethiopia.

#WildEye East Africa project manager Andiswa Matikinca said the tool is meant to “provide a single platform where users can track justice in action by following the progression of these incidents from the moment of a seizure or an arrest up until a final decision is made in the courts. With this tool that was mostly developed with journalists in mind, we aim to make the process of analysis, research and storytelling much easier and also provide editorial support where we can.”

A man in a suit stands at a podium and speaks into a microphone with a banner behind him that says "#WildEye East Africa"
InfoNile co-founder and editor Fredrick Mugira at the launch of #WildEye East Africa in Uganda / Credit: InfoNile. 

To kick off the project, four journalists, or “data wranglers,” were tasked with gathering new data points with support from mentors. Despite challenges of information scarcity and intense bureaucracy, the journalists were able to add to the rich data set of #WildEye. The tool now contains 1,614 data points with 292 data points collected from the most recent #WildEye East Africa phase. 

Oxpeckers and InfoNile support environmental investigations

Oxpeckers and InfoNile also conducted in-person and online trainings on the tool. Seventy-six journalists, including 31 journalists from the four newly recruited countries, developed further skills on how to report on wildlife crime in their countries.  

Journalist Dinkayehu Yohannes said he is trying to build awareness and advocate for the conservation of wildlife, saying, “I have planned to create awareness with radio news and programs for my community.”

Using newly collected data, the data wranglers published four investigative stories complete with data visualizations. Jonas Kiriko delved into issues of corruption and tracing illegal wildlife products in DRC, while Espoir Iradukunda looked at the threats of wildfires to natural reserves in Burundi, and Emebet Demeke explored how poaching and habitat degradation have reduced elephant populations in Ethiopia. Finally, journalists Diing Magot and Denis Morris Mimbugbe investigated the circumstances that allow wildlife crimes to be so easily committed in South Sudan.

A group of four women sing and dance at an event
A performance at the online launch of the #WildEye East Africa tool / Credit: InfoNile.

“[The stories produced] brought out under-reported insights into the status of wildlife crime and prosecutions in each country, as well as continuing challenges around corruption, data availability and press freedom,” said Annika McGinnis, co-founder of InfoNile, an organization that also partners with EJN on its GeoJournalism project.

Oxpecker’s Andiswa Matikinca also reflected on the future. “Building open-source platforms that are regularly updated for the benefit of investigative journalism is important for Oxpeckers, so we aim to keep adding more data on our #WildEye platforms as it becomes available, posting regular alerts on our social media pages and providing support to journalists and commissioning more investigations.”  

Learn more about the #WildEye mapping tool here.  

Project Manager Mike Shanahan made final reflections on the impact of BMI. "Fundación Blue Foresta significantly boosted a national network of environment journalists called RAI, enhancing its member's knowledge and skills, supporting their production of stories and expanding their professional networks. Already some of these journalists have found new opportunities as a result of the project," he said.

"The Oxpeckers and InfoNile project has boosted data journalism on wildlife trafficking in eight countries, creating the foundations for much more reporting of this issue. By mapping wildlife crime, the project exposed patterns of criminality and highlighted the importance of public access to information," he added.

Banner Image: The RAI Bolivia delegation attends WCSJ in Medellín, Colombia / Credit: RAI.

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