Module JD040

Environmental Journalism

Module author

Gabi Mocatta

University of Tasmania

Learning objectives

After you have completed this module, you will be able to:

  • Recapitulate the history of environmental journalism.
  • Discuss the challenges connected with environmental journalism.
  • Write environment features.
  • Discuss the struggle for issue definition.
  • Identify the use of environmental imagery.
  • Interpret environmental journalism as risk and crisis communication.

Chapter 1: The origins of reporting on the environment
1.1 The emergence of ‘the environment'
1.2 Environmental journalism today
1.3 Who reports on the environment?
1.4 What skills does environmental journalism call for?

Chapter 2: Journalism on the environment and its challenges
2.1 Media theory basics for the environmental journalist
2.1.1 Objectivity
2.1.2 Framing
2.1.3 News values
2.1.4 Agenda setting
2.1.5 Advocacy journalism
2.2 The media as environmental watchdog
2.3 Challenges for investigative environmental journalism today

Chapter 3: Writing an environment feature
3.1 Why an environment feature?
3.2 Features vs. news
3.3 Research
3.4 What kind of feature?
3.5 On the ground
3.6 The writing process
3.7 Sources' voices
3.8 Structure

Chapter 4: The struggle for issue definition
4.1 Media-source relations: a question of power
4.2 Journalism and environmental protest
4.3 Social media in communicating environmental conflict
4.4 Corporate Social Responsibility and environmental communications

Chapter 5: The power of environmental imagery
5.1 Symbol, rhetoric and the environmental image
5.2 A brief excursion into semiotics
5.3 Environmental imagery in activism and organizational PR
5.4 Making documentary-style environmental imagery

Chapter 6: Environmental journalism as risk and crisis communications
6.1 Risk theory and risk perception
6.2 Communicating in environmental crises
6.3 Environmental journalists: risk and crisis interpreters
6.4 Writing on risk and crisis

Study points 2
Preview Environmental Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Environmental Journalism is important

In the last 50 years, awareness of human impact on our planet has grown to such an extent that environmental debates now have a permanent place in public discourse. In order for publics to educate themselves on the environment, and for and decisionmakers to make informed policy choices, the media must provide them with timely and accurate information. This nexus between journalism, activism, science, publics, and politics is therefore an essential site for study. It is this often controversial and contested site that we will examine in-depth in this text.

This module introduces both crucial theories underpinning media and the environment, as well as the practice of environmental journalism. As you work through this text, you will deepen your knowledge of environmental communication both as a media consumer and a media practitioner. By the end of the module you will have gained a strong theoretical base as a foundation for your practical skills in environmental journalism, and you will have studied numerous examples and mini-case studies of communicating on the environment. You will also have produced some environmental journalism of your own.


Overview of the module

Chapter 1 of this module introduces you to the origins of discourse on the environment, and shows how the media have played a key role in shaping notions of global (and local) environmental threats and solutions. It provides an overview of what constitutes ‘environmental journalism' today, discusses who does environmental journalism, and looks at the skills environmental journalism calls for.

Chapter 2 gives you an understanding of the essential media theory that underlies journalistic practice, relating each concept back to reporting on the environment.

Chapter 3 clarifies the differences between news and feature reporting and explains how environmental issues are especially suited to the features style. It then runs you through the fundamentals of feature writing and asks you to start writing an environment feature of your own.

Chapter 4 examines the relationship between protest, activism and environmental reporting. Here we also look at corporations' own communication of their environmental credentials and examine how this can influence journalism on the environment.

Chapter 5 looks at the power of imagery in environmental journalism. Here we study images of the environment and consider how some images become powerfully symbolic in environmental debates. We also discuss some of the practicalities of environmental image-making.

Finally, in Chapter 6, we conceptualise communicating on the environment as risk and crisis communications, drawing learnings from the theory to inform our journalistic practice.

This module is guided above all by an attempt to reveal and understand the conflicted position in which environmental journalists often find themselves. We ask, should (and can) the practice of environmental journalism align itself with environmental politics, which attempts to "value life and the natural environment of all forms of life, against the interests of wealth, power, and technology" (Miller 2006)? Or are environmental journalists inextricably bound by the imperatives and values of the corporate news media, which form a key part of these interests in a globalized, neoliberal age? As this text unfolds, you may want to take your own position on this–there is no one answer. Keep these questions in mind as your guiding principle as you study this course unit: Your answer may dictate what kind of environmental communicator you one day become.