One way of making a meaningful contribution towards preserving the earth is to enter a career in environmental journalism. Journalists investigate environmental problems and their causes, report on environmental policy disputes, and make the public aware of these issues and the importance of a healthy planet.
There are numerous important stories concerning the environment waiting to be written but too few reporters take the trouble to work on them in sufficient depth. However, environmental and wildlife issues are gradually gaining more prominence in the press and some of these are making it to the front page of newspapers or to the main news desk.
It is worth noting that journalists did bring us the major issues discussed and behind-the-scene stories of COP 17 held in Durban in 2012.
Award-winning science journalist Leonie Joubert, author of three crucial books on Southern Africa’s changing environment, ‘Scorched Earth’, ‘Boiling Point’ and ‘Invaded’, reported on how global warming is already altering Africa’s political and social landscapes.
Other journalists prefer to produce compelling documentaries that reveal the dramatic wildlife of South Africa’s game parks and oceans, or show how pesticides end up in places like Antarctica, or that thousands of ‘muthi’ plants are sold in South Africa each day.
Although environmental journalism can be a daunting career at times, it is an opportunity to truly make a difference. Above all, a passion for the environment and wildlife protection is what motivates environmental journalists to find a story and pursue it.
Journalists may work in the offices of newspapers, magazines, or in radio and television. Generally these offices are crowded and busy although magazine offices are usually much quieter. Journalists have to visit the sites of events of interest. They need to research their assignments in libraries and information centres and on the internet. They work irregular hours and their duties often require them to work at night.
Schooling & School Subjects
Compulsory Higher Education
A degree or diploma in science and a course in journalism or science communication would be a pre-requisite to work with newspapers / broadcast media in this field. A background in wildlife and environmental issues and related laws (possibly through a degree in environmental science or through additional diploma courses) would be beneficial.
Degree: Journalism - UJ, Wits, US, Media Studies - RU, NMMU, or Communication Studies - UFH, UFS, UJ, NWU, UZ, UNISA, UP, UKZN, Monash. Additional environmental courses are required.
Environmental Journalism is available at e.g. Rhodes
Postgraduate: follow this with an environmental qualification.
Diploma: N.Dip: Journalism / Communication - CUT, TUT, CPUT, DUT. An advanced course (MTech and DTech Journalism) which may also be followed by students with basic qualifications in a related course, is offered at TUT.
Possible Career Paths
Read as much as you can about wildlife and environmental issues. Begin by building your portfolio by writing for local publications or making documentaries for smaller media houses. However, once you land a job, coaxing an article into existence will not be child’s play. It will often involve travelling to remote areas, being able to manage tough situations, often doing undercover investigations, negotiating and working with opposing campaign groups and through all of it, finding the objectivity and the talent to present the piece in a way that captures both the Editor’s and readers’ attention but does not lose its focus. Regularly interact with wildlife scientists and naturalists who can help verify facts and provide vital information and news.
• radio and television
• websites of large environmental organisations such as UNEP, WWF or Endangered Wildlife Trust
• government departments, e.g. as press secretary
• self-employment, working as a freelance journalist
Businesses may contract environmental writers to document and share the stories of how companies are embarking on a cleaner, greener business journey.
South African Journalists’ Association
POSTNET Suite 530
Private Bag X113
41 A Frost Road
Tel: (011) 716-1308 Fax: (011) 716-5647
Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)
P O Box 23273,
Tel: (021) 657-6600 Fax: 086 535 9433
1 Hood Avenue
Tel: (011) 447-1213 Fax: (011) 447-0365