Topping News Agenda

Dec 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Increased mainstream coverage of such topics as global warming, population growth and pollution has brought environmental reporting into American homes via broadcast, radio, print and the Internet. Whether it’s international breaking news, investigative journalism or in-depth scientific reporting, environmental journalism has never been so widespread.

“I think environmental journalism is hotter than it’s been for a while,” said Sunshine Menezes, executive director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting. “We have found that there are a lot of people doing exceptional work in environmental reporting, and they often don’t get the big-time recognition that other kinds of reporting can get. We’re trying to elevate this in the newsroom, as well as to bring attention to the environmental issues.”

Today’s environmental journalists—or, more likely, general-news reporters who cover the occasional environmental story—have an array of opportunities to be acknowledged for excellent work.

The place to start is the Society of Environmental Journalists (www.sej.org), an organization founded in 1990 by a small group of reporters, editors and producers. The SEJ, which now has 1,300 members, has an awards history that began in 2002. The SEJ Awards accept entrants from print, broadcast and online media, from news outlets of all sizes. First-place winners get $1,000.

SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke reports that although the number of entries for awards has reached a plateau, the quality continues to rise. “Every year, it’s more amazing,” said Ms. Parke, who considers the plateau to be an indication of squeezed budgets. “The work that comes in is stunning. There are people doing awesome work who may not even be in the employment of a mainstream radio or TV station. We’re seeing entries from independent producers that rival anything we see from stations.”

The Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, based at the University of Rhode Island, has a mission to improve clarity and accuracy of environmental reporting. Funded by the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the Metcalf Institute administers the prestigious Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment (www.metcalfinstitute.org).

Although the Grantham Prize comes with $75,000, which the Metcalf Institute’s Ms. Menezes said is the largest journalism prize in the world, the award is still gaining traction. “We gave our first prize in 2006,” Ms. Menezes said, adding that the winner was the Record of Bergen County, N.J., which won for its print series “Toxic Legacy,” with a “phenomenal multimedia component.” “We are just now entering our third prize cycle, and we’re still working on getting the word out,” she said.

Part of the difficulty, she said, is that environmental reporting is “less beat reporting and part of every story.”

“If you’re talking broadcast TV, it can be part of business reporting, politics, even lifestyle,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure that, first and foremost, everyone in the journalism community knows [the award] is here.”

The challenge of being an environmental journalist goes beyond the shrinking newsroom budget. “These are complicated issues,” Ms. Menezes said. “You have to expect a lot of your audience when writing these stories. You have to do a lot of explaining of the science behind the issue, the business and political ramifications, and you have to have something that catches people’s attention. It’s a lot to put in a single story, and not everyone can do it well.”

The National Press Club in Washington administers numerous awards, including the Robert L. Kozik Award for Environmental Reporting, recognizing two categories: print/online and television, at the local, national or international level (www.press.org). Special consideration is given to reporting that helps to expose or correct environmental threats. All full-time professional journalists are eligible to apply.

Founded in 1989 by Franklin E. Kozik to honor his son, an outdoors enthusiast who died that year, the Kozik Award offers a $500 prize and a Kozik medal for each category.

Mark Schoeff Jr., chair of the Press Club’s awards committee, reports the number of entrants is trending upward: “We have a total of 13 awards, and [the Kozik Award] is the one that gets the most entries, two years in a row.” Last year’s broadcast winner was CNN, for “Melting Point,” about global warming trends.

The broadcast reporter interested in learning more about environmental journalism also can apply for the Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder. For U.S. journalists working in print or broadcast, with a minimum of five years of full-time experience, the nine-month fellowship pays a $47,000 stipend and consists of courses, seminars and field trips, with independent study leading to a “significant piece of journalistic work.”

At the Metcalf Institute, Ms. Menezes said she is already receiving entries, although the first postmark deadline isn’t until mid-January. “I’m sure we’ll have a bumper crop of entries this year,” she said, “because there’s been so much reporting on the weather.”


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