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Writing for Change. Environmental Journalism Then and Now

Without any doubt, the news media have played and still play an important part in arousing public concern in environmental quality. Since the late nineteenth century and in particular since the 1970s, environmental journalists and environmentalists practicing journalism report on industrial pollution, conservation issues, environmental disasters and uncover the effects of climate change on everyday life. The example of Greenpeace, in turn, illustrates how environmental activism’s strategies, their success even, often depends on garnering widespread news attention. The rise of environmental awareness and the environmental beat in news reporting go hand in hand.

The intricate relationship between both, the creation of environmental awareness and environmental journalism, however, is problematic. From the start, professionals have struggled with the challenge of how to tell stories about highly complex science and policy debates which unfold slowly in meetings and journals. The long-term effects of pollution or environmental disasters on humans and the environment are not always easy to pin down. Sometimes, expert opinions seem to stand against each other. Moreover, how to make readers (and editors) care about planetary changes that may not affect them, but the next generation, people half-way around the globe or non-human beings? Today’s post-truth and fake-news debates, e.g. centering on the reality of climate change, as well as a more general crisis of print media nourish existing difficulties. Despite the institutionalization of the environmental beat in news reporting in many industrialized countries in the 1970s, environmental journalism has long been on the decline. Even today, with increasingly pressing environmental issues, green journalism has remained “a delicate plant already on the list of endangered species,” according to Torsten Schäfer, head of the project “Climate Stories.”

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