Someone said, sometime, that news is what someone, somewhere, wants supressed. All the rest is advertising.
As journalists, uncovering uncomfortable truths is part of our job, but designing and conducting investigative climate stories can be a daunting task. Climate change sprawls across beats with myriad complex links and interrelations that can seem overwhelming at first sight.
How to tackle the climate beat to expose the wrongdoing, the corruption and the lies that stop a fair transition to a more sustainable future? We talked to three top investigative environmental journalists and put together some great resources for you to go out into the world and create impactful climate stories.
Our speakers had a lot of insights to share! We put together some of the resources and tools they mentioned in this guidebook to help you.
View full webinar
We brought together a dream line-up with three globally recognized climate investigative journalists.
Neela Banerjee is NPR’s first-ever Supervising Climate Editor, tasked with working across the newsroom to lead the network’s broad climate coverage. Neela spent five years as senior correspondent at InsideClimate News, where she led the team that revealed how Exxon had conducted its own ambitious climate research as far back as the mid-1970s. The Exxon project spurred public interest lawsuits, won more than a dozen national journalism awards and was a finalist for 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Reporting. She began her journalism career at The Wall Street Journal, where she served as a Russia correspondent. Neela grew up all over the U.S., but mostly in southeast Louisiana, and is a graduate of Yale University.
Marina Aizén is a journalist from Argentina. Former correspondent for Clarin, the largest newspaper in Argentina, in NY. Feature writer for Viva Magazine. She wrote two books: Contaminados, an immersion in the dirt of the Riachuelo, and Trumplandia. She received several national and international awards, including the UN Correspondents Association Award for the environmental coverage. She co-founded Periodistas por el Planeta to enhance the conversation on the future of the Planet for Spanish speaking audiences. She currently writes for Anfibia magazine.
Mat Hope became Editor of DeSmog UK in 2017, having previously worked for Carbon Brief and Nature Publishing Group. He has a PhD in climate change communications from the University of Bristol.
Your Questions Answered
At the end of our webinar, we ran out of time to answer some questions, so we include those answers below, in writing.
To the three Speakers – What would be your best advice for a documentary photographer who is just starting in Climate Investigative Journalism? – Adebo Mayowa
Mat: Think about the major controversies in the climate space right now — environmental contamination from fossil fuels and agriculture, police/state brutality towards/treatment of environmental protestors, etct – and hang your work off that. If you can team up with an established reporter, all the better. And make sure you have Hostile Environment training.
Neela: I agree with Mat’s recommendations. My best experiences with visual journalists have come when they, too, did a lot of reading of the politics, policy and science around various things that are happening. That deep knowledge that you bring to the story will inform it. And if you don’t understand something, ask to speak to the scientists or academics or experts. Ive found that almost always, people are quite willing to teach you.
To all the panellists – There’s a lot of discussion about solution journalism (thorough investigations where problem-solving is central to the narrative and the focus is on what works in society instead of focusing on conflict). Do you think there’s space for solution journalism to intersect with investigative (climate) reporting and if so how? – Marta Viganò
Mat: Definitely. Not least in the interrogation of those solutions (though that slips over into conflict). If you can find stories of ‘solutions’ where ‘ordinary people’ are working against more powerful forces, those are always great.
Neela: I think audiences often tire of journalists offering up just bad news, and unfortunately, that is a big part of investigative journalism. But if your story or series has a solution built into it—even an emerging effort to address a problem—that is a great help to the audience. I’ll give you an example. This isn’t a climate story but an education story I heard today on NPR, where I work. The reporter was talking about how matriculation at US colleges that often serve lower-income people in the US, so-called community colleges, has decreased sharply during the pandemic. She explained why. Then, she spent the last third of her story talking about a community college in Florida that has bucked the trend, that has kept up its numbers of students and how the college did it. So she pointed out a problem and a workable response. In climate, that is useful, so that audiences don’t just slip into despair.
Recently I saw “Seaspiracy” on Netflix which made some damning revelations on the seafood industry and the industry being a large ocean polluter with their seines and waste. In my country Guyana we have a large fishing industry but there is limited documentation on what happens at sea here. How can a journalist pursue a story to investigate a story like this? (Basically, I’m looking for tips as to where I can start) – David Pappanah
Mat: I think you’ve already identified where you can start! You’ve got a great public interest angle (how might Guyana’s industry be involved in wrongdoing) and at least a set of companies/organisations to take a look at. But more specifically, if there’s limited documentation, you’re going to need access to a good source. Are there any companies that don’t treat their workers well? That’s normally a good place to potentially find someone willing to talk. Ultimately without documentation, you’re going to have to rely on on-the-ground reporting. That will take considerable source cultivation. But could be a great story.
Neela: David, do you know the folks at OutlawOcean.org? It’s the brainchild of Ian Urbina, a former NY Times investigative reporter who left the paper to pursue this line of coverage after doing this blockbuster project on it. Maybe they can inspire you!
Thank you to all our participants! We hope you’re now better equipped and inspired to go out there and deep dive into investigative climate reporting.