Environmental journalism - Why local matters

Posted by Deborah Kelly

They’re subjects central to the way we live our lives and the survival of the planet and increasingly there’s a link to many journalists’ investigations.

Reporting on the key environmental issues of pollution, biodiversity, sustainability and the biggest threat to our planet, climate change is tackled in a series of free online courses published by the Thomson Foundation on its Journalism Now platform.

Designed around the premise that environmental factors influence many news stories which at first appear unrelated, they are aimed at all journalists not just those specialising in environmental reporting.

They’ve been produced as world leaders prepare to debate the climate crisis at the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26) being held in Glasgow, UK in November 2021.

The three courses are:


Course details

The courses draw on the expertise of leading journalists and academics and have been produced with assistance from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Dart Center, Carbon Brief, Clean Energy Wire and Periodistas x el planeta.

Data, sources and information

The first of the three courses Sources is designed to give journalists the skills they need to investigate local stories and recognise whether they are linked to environmental issues such as climate change.

It looks at how to find reliable sources, analyse information and illustrates the importance of data in uncovering hidden stories and “scoops”.

There’s a section exploring the political and economic drivers behind environmental stories and another looking at legal rights. Arrest and imprisonment is increasingly used against journalists reporting on environmental issues in an attempt to silence them. This section examines how the law can work for and against them.


Getting it right for the audience

The challenge for journalists is how to engage readers and audiences in an important subject such as climate change and maintain their interest.

The second course in the Environmental journalism course focuses on Storytelling and explores techniques to keep the stories relevant and engaging.

It considers how issues at a local level are connected to the global picture and how to craft the same story to make it relevant to a local, national or international audience.

Environmental destruction and climate change can foster a feeling of helplessness so section 6 of this course looks at the importance of solutions-based stories in attracting and inspiring readers.


A dangerous job

Reporting on environmental related issues is now considered one of the most dangerous areas for a journalist to work in. There are often economic and political drivers behind the stories and powerful people have a lot at stake.

The third course Safety and Security is designed to help journalists stay safe when facing not only physical but also digital threats including dealing with online harassment.

It looks at the legal rights of journalists and how they can vary from country to country.

There can be an emotional impact from covering such challenging stories and issues, the final section of this course looks at self-care and wellbeing.   

The courses are currently available in English but it is hoped they can be translated into other languages to make them available to many more journalists across the world.


Course cover illustrations: Michelle Thompson

Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly

Director of Training and Communications

About: Deborah plays a key part in developing and promoting our training programmes and is our specialist  on gender in media. Her recent training projects have centred on digital and mobile journalism.

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