Environmental Journalism Slowly Grows Up

Article excerpt

Environmental journalism, which grew quickly in the 1980s, has survived a recession-era pruning and is set to thrive again in the 1990s.

But crucial to the future of environmental reporting is education - of editors, who have cut coverage despite high public interest, and of reporters, who must master a variety of subjects to handle the complex, contentious beat. These views emerged from a recent Freedom Forum Environmental Journalism Summit, attended by 31 journalists, educators, policy makers and scientists in Arlington, Va.

Since mid-1990, the worsening USA economy has drawn both public and media interest away from the environment, a recent Roper Reports survey shows. But at the same time:

* Eight in 10 Americans call themselves environmentalists, and the leading environmentalist in Congress, Albert Gore Jr., is now vice president.

* The Society of Environmental Journalists grew to an 850-member organization in three years, and several major environmental journalism programs are under way.

"There is a transition happening that is still sort of painful and difficult," said Teya Ryan, executive producer at Turner Broadcasting. "Environmental journalism is slowly coming out of adolescence."

The beat puts reporters at odds with scientists who mine arcane detail, public-interest groups that push political agendas and businesses that push economic ones. Yet good environmental reporting can be readable, relevant and wide-ranging, touching on science, health, energy, economics, politics and culture. …