From Biodiversity to Zoonotic Spillover: 20 Tips for Journalists from EJN Webinars

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From Biodiversity to Zoonotic Spillover: 20 Tips for Journalists from EJN Webinars

As #EJNTurnsTwenty, we pulled together a selection of short video clips and quotes from 20 webinars. This is just a small snapshot of the breadth and depth of guidance you’ll find in our webinar archives, packed with recordings of expert presentations (they’re all on-the-record, too), reporting tips and journalist-driven Q&As collated to help improve reporters’ understanding of the climate, biodiversity, ocean and One Health crises.  

1) Communicating the Health of the Mesoamerican Reef 

This was the first webinar ever held by EJN, as part of our Mesoamerican Reef Reporting project in 2019. This quote is from Melanie McField, the Director at Healthy Reefs for Healthy People, about the current condition of the reefs in the region. Five years on, you can read the latest Healthy Reefs report card on their website.  

"Overall, for the whole Mesoamerican Reef, you can see what percent[age] of sites are in different condition,” McField said. “16% of the sites are critical, and the major class was poor.” 

2) Zoonotic Diseases: Wildlife Trade, Ecosystems Disruption, and the Spread of Epidemics 

This webinar began a series of events about Covid-19 that we held at the height of the pandemic. The speaker, Maarten Hoek of the RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, explored the threats posed by human-wildlife interactions and how environmental disruption is heightening the risk of pandemics. 

"From the changes we see now and from what we have experienced, [disease spread] will become an increasing problem due to our increased population and, therefore, our increased human-to-human interactions but also due to loss of biodiversity and ecological damage," Hoek said. 

3) COVID-19 and the Environmental Crisis 

This event offered journalists an opportunity to learn how to harness data to expose inequality, wildlife trafficking, and other issues related to COVID-19. Data journalist and media trainer Eva Constantaras shared tips on how to write a story that incorporates data and provides communities with more and better information.  

"My first tip is, what's your question? Yesterday, the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced, the prize for the best explanatory reporting was won by the Washington Post for an environmental story. They did a story called "Two Degrees Beyond the Limit.” I really like this story because the question that they asked is so basic ... They looked at temperature data, they looked at weather data ... and that's basically all the data they use,” Constantaras said. “If that story can win the Pulitzer Prize for such a simple use of data, it really speaks to citizens wanting more and better information about climate change." 

4) Spotlight on Climate and Environmental Justice 

This webinar featured a discussion on environmental justice and its importance in broader conversations about systemic racism and public health. Speaker Drew Costley, now the Senior Reporter at Verite News New Orleans, shares his insights on what the term environmental justice represents.  

“Environmental justice is a term we have now to describe things that have been happening for centuries,” Costley said. "We’ve spent decades now covering climate and the environment from the perspective of people who are putting out projections and predictions about how bad it’s going to be. But you notice that people didn’t actually start paying attention – at least in the US – until Hurricane Katrina, until you start seeing images of people on the top of their roofs, until you start seeing stories of people dying at sports arenas, where they’re refugees in their own cities.” 

5) The Effects of Using Saline Water in the Bay of Bengal Region 

Along the Bay of Bengal coast, water is becoming increasingly salty due to rising sea levels. Internews’ Senior Health Media Advisor Dr. Jaya Shreedhar spoke about the health implications of saline water and the disproportionate consequences for those with preexisting health conditions.  


6) Policies to Protect our Planet: Priorities for the Biden Administration 

This discussion on how U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration are shaping their environmental agenda took place around the time of Biden’s inauguration in 2021. Jennifer Morgan, former co-Executive Director at Greenpeace International, discussed the importance of government action to address the interconnected crises of climate, biodiversity, inequality and injustice. 

7) The Emerging Role of AI in Fighting Oceanic Crime

How is artificial intelligence changing the way illegal activity is detected in the world’s oceans? And how should journalists report more effectivley on this emerging field? Peter Stoett, Dean of Social Science and Humanities at Ontario Tech University, delved into the potential promises and challenges that the use of AI presents. 

“I think artificial intelligence and advanced tech in general has great promise – there's no doubt about that, and this is going to be one of the big stories in the next five years,” Stoett said. “But it won’t eliminate certain things that are, at heart, political: Distrust issues between fishers and governments, corporate rivalries, security dilemmas … [and] it will not eliminate the main drivers of oceanic crime: Greed, poverty and ignorance.” 

8) Beating the Biopirates 

This webinar for journalists explains the complexities of the Nagoya Protocol, which aims to ensure legal access to genetic resources and guarantee that any benefits are shared fairly and equitably. Krystyna Swiderska of the International Institute for Environment and Development spoke about bioprospecting and biopiracy and its impact on low- and middle-income nations. A must-listen for those on the biodiversity beat!  

"Bioprospecting is the commercial use of genetic resources, so it includes the collection and research and development process, and it also includes the collection and use of traditional knowledge relating to genetic resources which are held by indigenous peoples and local communities,” Swiderska said. “So the issue is that most of the world's biodiversity is located in developing countries, but the technology to use that biodiversity, those genetic resources, into commercial products, is located in developed industrialized countries." 

9) The Impacts of Overfishing Around the Coasts of India 

This webinar explored marine subsidies in India. How can this policy tool balance productivity and management of fish stocks? Speaker Rashid Sumaila, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Interdisciplinary Ocean and Fisheries Economics, The University of British Columbia, spoke about what is necessary to make the blue economy work in a more sustainable manner. 

"What we need to do in order to get harmony in the blue economy, in order for it to work sustainably, we really need to think hard when we take actions and design policies like subsidies,” Sumaila said. “Say that they lead to positive feedback from people to nature and nature to people rather than currently where there is negative feedback ... for example, there's some ideas that you pay fishers to go catch plastic rather than fish. They clean up the ocean, they get their income, the fish get their break so they can feed us more, you clean the ocean, it is a win-win." 

10) Following the Money: Investigating Illegal Wildlife Trade in East Africa 

The ways in which reporters can expose the connection between money laundering and environmental crime are the center of discussion in this webinar for journalists in East Africa. Kenyan lawyer Didi Wamukoya of the African Wildlife Foundation shared tips for journalists looking to investigate wildlife trafficking networks by studying financial flows.  

“Research the problem before you embark on the storytelling. Make sure you know the problem in and out and understand all angles of the problem so you can tell all angles of the story,” said Wamukoya. “Form relationships with law enforcement agencies. Law enforcers don’t know that they need journalists, but we need you to help us tell our stories.” 

11) The IPCC Report: The Latest Science on Climate Change and Its Implications for the Planet 

This webinar explored the significance of the IPCC’s Working Group I report and what journalists should know about its contents that will be relevant to audiences worldwide. Youba Sokona, a vice-chair and lead author at the IPCC, discussed the role of media in disseminating the report’s findings. A useful resource for every journalist who could do with a little help unpacking dense scientific reports of any kind.  

“[Scientists] have no skills to communicate the complex information to the general public,” Sokona said. “[Journalists] have the ability to do that … journalists coming from different parts of the world, from Asia, from Africa, from Latin America – they can distill from the report, they can inform with a language [the public] could easily understand.”  

12) What Is The “Green Recovery”?: A Webinar for Journalists on Climate Action in the Wake of Covid-19 

This webinar offered journalists an opportunity to learn more about green recovery and how journalists can hold policymakers accountable for their commitments to boost economies through green growth in the aftermath of the pandemic. Speaker Tian Lin, Environment and Social Analyst, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, offered insights on the elements that characterize a true green recovery.  

13) Urban Resilience in the Age of Climate Change 

Urban resilience experts discussed the challenges and opportunities to build safe, sustainable cities as the effects of climate change become more and more prominent around the world. Dr. Kristina Hill, Director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development and Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley discusses the context-specific challenges faced by communities navigating increasingly severe natural disasters. 

“If you’re dealing with hurricanes and earthquakes, you don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the slow incremental change represented by sea level rise,” Hill said. “That’s a big problem for everyone who has those disaster events. California fire? Super distracting for us. Hurricane Maria? Super distracting for Puerto Rico and other countries in the Caribbean.” 

14) Human Impacts and Human Rights on the High Seas: A Webinar for Ocean Journalists 

From piracy and slavery to offshore oil and gas extraction to the exploitation of the ocean’s genetic resources, this webinar provided journalists looking to report on ocean issues plenty of human-interest story ideas. Award-winning investigative journalist and director of the Outlaw Ocean Project Ian Urbina spoke about the lessons learned from his deep dives on the high seas.  

15) Climate-Driven Migration: Reporting on the Global Crisis Displacing Coastal Communities 

This webinar explored how the media can tell nuanced, in-depth stories about communities displaced by climate impacts. Manuel Marques Pereira, Head of Division for Migration, Environment, Climate Change and Risk Reduction at the International Organization on Migration, talked about the needs and challenges of those migrating as a result of climate change. 

“The challenges of migration by climate, or migration by livelihood opportunities — they are not very different,” Pereira said. “People need information, they need safe pathways to have that mobility, and the assurance that that movement is safe, and they are protected from the moment they depart to the moment they arrive. This applies to any kind of mobility.” 

16) Connecting the Dots: Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss and Their Impacts on Our Health 

In this webinar, expert speakers discussed how climate change and biodiversity loss drive the emergence of infectious diseases and other health issues. Serge Morand, Health Ecologist at CNRS and Member of the One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) of the One Health Quadripartite, provided greater insight into the meaning of One Health, and how One Health approaches can underpin stories at the intersection of climate, environment and public health.  

17) What is the "Global Polycrisis" and How Should Journalists Be Covering It? 

What does this newly coined term mean, why is it important for climate and environmental journalism, and how can reporters uncover relevant angles and story ideas to improve public awareness about it? Rachel Kyte, the former dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School, spoke about our world's multiple interconnected crises, and why their collective impact is greater than the sum of their parts.  

18) How Can Our Energy Systems Lead Us to Climate Justice? A Webinar for Journalists on Just Transition 

This webinar delves into what makes a just transition truly just, spotlighting the perspectives of youth, women, Indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups. Joan Carling, Executive Director at Indigenous Peoples Rights International, highlighted the importance of free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples in decision-making on energy systems. 

19) Making Room for Civic Engagement in Natural Resource Management in the Mekong 

This webinar discusses the consequences of shrinking civic space on natural resource management in Lower Mekong countries. In this context, Saw Paul Sein Twa, Executive Director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network KESAN), underscored the renewed importance of collaboration between sectors, including local communities, Indigenous peoples, and organizations.  

20) Los Riesgos de Reportear en la Amazonía (The Risks of Reporting in the Amazon) 

Reporting in the Amazon region is increasingly dangerous. This Spanish-language webinar covers strategies for journalists to develop robust safety plans. Viviana Yanguma, from Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) or The Foundation for Press Freedom, a non-profit organization created to protect threatened journalists in Colombia, shared the importance of reviewing the differential risk factors that each journalist may face. 

"Something that is very important is to be able to review differential risk factors. I am a journalist, but I am also a woman; I am a journalist, but I also belong to an ethnic community, an Afro community. These intersectional factors also show me some risks that I must map and be able to create routes for action. How do I create those routes? What we always recommend is that there can be a reading of the support networks that I have at that moment. So then support networks include talking to authorities, civil society organizations, members of my community, family members, colleagues, all the people or groups of people who may be willing to help me." 


Journalists on a field trip to Siak Riau Province, Indonesia. This photo is for representative purposes only / Credit: CIFOR via Flickr.

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