Information Abyss: The Need For Clear Environmental Reporting

Jeffrey Barbee, for the Pulitzer Center
Copenhagen, Denmark

Andreus Andreopolis, the Administer of Greek group Frog Boiled. He is walking from Copenhagen (he is pictured here in the busy Bela Center) to Greece to highlight Climate Change, and hopes to get a lot of people to join him on the way.

Copenhagen...I think I am finally getting my head wrapped around it, and what is just beginning to eek into my brain is this. There is a strong disconnect between what I have seen on the ground, in forests, and what I witnessed and have heard at the conference. Many of the policy makers do not have a strong understanding of the intricacy of the issues being discussed and decided. When they do have a good grasp of them they often fail to see how those issues will be implemented outside the corridors of their offices. This is not only their failure, but a failure of those of us who report on these subjects.

Last night I went to the Earth Journalism Awards. They were presented by famous BBC World journalist Lyse Doucet from prime time television, and had a Nobel Prize winner, high level ministers from the around the world and many others help hand out the gorgeous prizes in one of the most beautiful buildings in Copenhagen.

My experience in getting stories of this kind published in the mainstream press is patchy at best. Environmental journalism does not get exposure in the media. It's looked at almost like that slightly geeky guy who says all the right things at the wrong times at a college party.

In the hack and slash world of the current press cutbacks, it is unlikely that this will change, but even in the "old days" when there were budgets, I often, very often, had many of my friends and colleagues from various international newspapers ask me to stop suggesting environmental stories. They felt, and so did (and do) many of the editors we work with, that they are simply not hard news.

Science desks at newspapers are under-funded and often not in charge of the meager budgets they do have.

The problem with environmental reporting is that it's expensive, it requires research, it requires skill and thorough knowledge. It requires money. So most of what is out there is like my documentary at the moment. Self produced, released through a limited niche market, and therefore not widely read or watched, and there is not a lot of it.

So the Earth Journalism Awards are an attempt by the pioneering press group Internews to raise the profile of these stories and get them out to more people. Go to the website and check some of them out, they are great. One of my favorites is Trash Is Cash by Lilian Tende. It was released on YouTube. Many of the others were web-only productions or pieces of writing. Some of the winners have not made money, and some have not even covered their costs from the projects.

There is a clear need for a much greater understanding of these very important issues in the months and years ahead.The mainstream media is still way behind in supporting and sustaining clear and relevant news on environmental issues that matter to us all. How to redress this imbalance is not easy, but it was good to see a group like Internews, who helped foster cross-border relations during the cold war, tackling the issue and working to put these environmental journalists and their very good stories in the spotlight.

Author's note:

This post was amended on December 17th, when it was pointed out by the organisers that although there were no other TV journalists (I was covering it for TV) present at the awards there were more than forty journalists there. However, after a search I have found only one article, from online portal in the press from a journalist who attended, and feel that the spirit of this post is even more relevent in light of that.

This story was reported for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the feed here from Mother Jones.