In April, Shreya Agrawal, our engagement coordinator – who is also a climate journalist – was at the Society for Environmental Journalism conference in Philadelphia, PA and earlier this month, I was at World Press Freedom Day in Santiago, Chile. Below we share our (sometimes overlapping) takeaways for those of you who weren’t able to attend the convenings.

– Allison Agsten, Director, CCJC

Shreya Agrawal (second from left) attended Society for Environmental Journalism’s annual conference in Philadelphia, PA.

Allison Agsten: Were there any key themes that emerged during the Society for Environmental Journalism (SEJ) conference that you participated in at the beginning of April? I am wondering which of those themes do or don’t connect with the topics I heard most discussed at UNESCO’s World Press day focused on environmental journalism last week?

Shreya Agrawal: The theme of this year’s conference was “democracy, disinformation, activism… what’s environmental journalism’s role?” And those three topics did emerge as the major themes this year. Misinformation was also a big one: there were several workshops conducted solely on misinformation and how to combat it in the climate journalism space. Throughout the program it was also clear that journalists and citizens want more climate action and transparency from the government. The other big one was talking about the energy transition, which brings a lot of these issues to the forefront, including environmental justice and equity. What did you hear at UNESCO?

AA: Also a lot of concern about misinformation and disinformation. That was definitely one of the key themes. Related, people are worried about the role of AI in climate journalism, particularly in perpetuating mis- and disinformation. There was also a great deal of discussion about safety. A disturbing statistic from the U.N.: 70% of environmental journalists faced violence as a result of their work, and 25% of surveyed journalists experienced legal attacks.

Nothing has stuck with me more than those conversations about violence. How about you? What has stayed with you even after a little time and distance from the event?

SA: Environmental journalists seem to be feeling quite overwhelmed with the amount of information they have to cover –– especially because at smaller newsrooms, they are covering other beats including climate change. There is just so much going on in the climate change world… just because nearly everything has an environmental angle. Coming back from the conference, I was quite overwhelmed by all the things that I had learnt in a week –– but also so inspired by the energy of all the journalists I met and heard from. It gave me so much hope knowing these hundreds of people showed up at the conference because they so deeply care about the future of our planet.

Also, more people are paying attention to climate –– this year’s SEJ was the largest attendance we had seen so far and it included so many people from different parts of the world, including India, Nigeria and Ghana. I heard attendees from other countries say they don’t have dedicated climate journalism at all and often outlets in the West end up covering most of the global climate change news, which means the places that they are relevant to either hear it from a Western lens or they don’t hear about it at all. There is a real need for more climate news coverage by journalists in the global South –– a more “democratic” take, if you will, towards global climate news.

AA: As you can imagine, the UNESCO conference included many participants from the global south – Latin America in particular – since it was located in Chile. All in all, more than 2,500 participants from 116 different countries! It was really refreshing to hear about work outside of the context in which I am situated. 

Thinking about the journalists we both met, and based on your experience at SEJ, what do you think we can do more of or do better to support journalists who are covering climate change?

SA: Well, funding is the major issue, isn’t it? Especially in local newsrooms where journalists are struggling to focus on climate issues because they have to cover several beats at the same time. 

A lot of journalists also show up to conferences like SEJ to learn about new topics or get ideas within the climate journalism space. Science journalism can often be quite difficult to enter into and many journalists don’t feel prepared or confident enough to tell good science stories. But this isn’t an insurmountable barrier –– it shouldn’t be. I know several science journalists who are incredible at their job and they don’t have science degrees! You don’t need a science degree to be a good science journalist. All you need is an insatiable curiosity and a framework that helps you report stories better. And that’s why conferences and training sessions for climate journalists are extremely important!

Also, giving this a little bit more thought –– I think we should have more regular networking sessions between climate journalists. And this is something that is very personal to me. Climate journalism can often be such a depressing job… and I feel ebbs in my motivation and work all the time. But being at the conference gave me hope, inspired me and gave me so many ideas that I want to work on. And having a space where I can regularly connect with other climate journalists would help so much with staying motivated. Caring for the planet is not something I do alone, but it can often feel lonely. It’s nice to have a reminder every now and then that we’re all in this together.

You can listen to Allison Agsten talk about climate communication at the UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day in Santiago, Chile here.

You can also read about and listen to Shreya Agrawal’s panel on rural climate reporting at SEJ in Philadelphia, PA.

 

Agsten and panelists speaking at a workshop on Youth Voices in the Face of Environmental and Information Pollution, UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day Conference.

 

SEJ conference group dinner with a special guest, Stacey Abrams.


Allison Agsten is the director of the Center for Climate Journalism and Communication. Shreya Agrawal is a multimedia journalist and the Center for Climate Journalism and Communication’s engagement coordinator.