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'Tell All': Environmental Journalists Share Their Advice on Solutions-Oriented Reporting and More for Earth Month

Hands at work on a landscape restoration project in Rwanda

Here at EJN, we treat every day as if it were Earth Day. Nevertheless, we celebrated the occasion throughout the month, leading up to the actual day on April 22.  

On April 19, we hosted a webinar exploring how journalists can cover the concept of a “global polycrisis,” a term describing the interconnected crises that are currently embroiling the world, such as climate change, war and rising food and energy costs. Watch the recording here

We also reached out to our global network and asked them to share guidance and resources on producing solutions-oriented environmental journalism. 

Why? Because this year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet,” and journalists play an important role in shining a light on where investment could be best directed. Sometimes impactful actions are already taking place, born out of traditional cultures and livelihoods – but just like innovative technological solutions that address climate change and promote environmentally friendly practices, they need public and private support to be scaled up and out. Journalists can also use the power of the pen to interrogate how effective and equitable solutions really are.  

Take a look at what journalists around the world would tell an environmental reporter who is just starting out:  

Before any facts are gathered, before any sources are interviewed and even before a story idea is born, the passion to report on environmental issues is key, said Roshan Gunasekare in Sri Lanka: “First, we must be a group of people who love the environment.” 

Nelson Bahati, who is from Uganda but lives in Norway, underscored how critical it is for journalists to do their research. "Environmental reporting is special and quite often scientific and complex. This section of news requires a journalist to read a lot on the science of the phenomenon related to the environment and keep updated on new knowledge that is being revealed on a particular environmental beat you are reporting on.”

Arnold Ageta in Kenya said journalists who want to report solutions-oriented stories should shift their mindset away from simply shining a light on problems: "The era of pointing fingers to those involved in environmental issues is gone. We want to be part of those in the forefront in fighting for a better environment.” 

“Environmental journalism is about provoking and invoking solutions through our stories that lead to the legislation of new laws that safeguard our Earth and new policies be developed for the good of our environment,” he added.

In March, we asked some of our Asia-Pacific media grantees to share the most pressing environmental issue in their countries. 

Likewise, Ruqiya Anwar in Pakistan pointed out that journalists need to start thinking about climate change not just as a main subject of stories but as a recurring backdrop too: “Realizing that climate change is not only 'a story' but the context for many other stories helps readers and scientific professionals engage. A contextual approach may also allow for untold narratives. It's about enabling impact, and tools may be produced instead of stories.” 

In India, Swati Sanyal Tarafdar encouraged journalists to report solutions-oriented environmental stories thoroughly from many angles. In other words, “Tell all, so that anyone looking for a similar solution is adequately informed.” 

"Don't just describe the problem, look for what people are doing about it. Explain it. How is it impacting people and their situations? Talk to people who are benefiting, or not benefiting. What are the limitations of these responses or solutions?” said Sanyal Tarafdar. 

Janine from the Philippines said when it comes to searching for sources, journalists should broaden their understanding of what constitutes expertise: “Treat farmers, fisherfolk, forest rangers and other local workers as experts the way you would treat a scientist.”  

And Bahati from Uganda added that a good strategy is to chase after solutions that have already been implemented in some way at the community level: "Because a lot may be reported already, yet the information on their impact is not available, and therefore reporting makes no sense if journalists do not follow up the impact of what has been covered.” 

We asked EJN-supported journalists in the Asia-Pacific region how EJN has impacted their careers.

For Tamika Gounden in South Africa too, the key to solutions-oriented journalism is starting at the ground level and working upwards, instead of the reverse:  

“If you come from a developing country or are experiencing firsthand environmental challenges, start with the basics, what do you need at a household level, communal level and then move to national solutions,” said Gounden. “Engagement on an individual level is always most relatable. Get the local farmer that’s affected, the small fishery and then get the department to comment.” 

She, like Gunasekare, reminded journalists to keep substance firmly in their sights: “Stick to what you want to cover without thinking about clicks and listens. Putting your full energy into a project will do it justice as long as you stick to your passion.” 

Shahzad Naveed in Pakistan also recommended journalists look inward for another important resource: “Courage is very important for environmental solutions.” 

Our network sent along links to tipsheets, e-learning opportunities and sources of information that would support better solutions-oriented environmental journalism. These included:  

  • The Global South Climate Database is a database of climate scientists and experts in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific that journalists can contact. It was created by Carbon Brief with support from the Reuters Institute's Oxford Climate Journalism Network. 
  • The Thomson Foundation offers an online multilingual course in environmental journalism, which covers sourcing, storytelling and safety.  
  • The Environmental Reporting Collective is a collaborative investigative journalism project focused on environmental crimes. They offer a newsletter that rounds up recent investigative reports, data sources, training opportunities and projects related to environmental concerns. 
  • Earlier this year, Covering Climate Now hosted a webinar with Solutions Journalism Network titled “How to Do Climate Solutions Reporting.” The recording can be watched on YouTube

You can also check out some of EJN’s own resources which would be helpful for reporters undertaking a solutions-oriented story, such as:  

Find EJN’s entire library of guides, webinars and online courses on our website.

Banner image: Rwanda launched an ambitious landscape restoration project that will restore the natural forests of Amayaga in Rwanda’s Southern Province. / Credit: Rwanda Environment Management Authority REMA via Flickr