Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Changing Work Environment of Environmental Reporters

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Changing Work Environment of Environmental Reporters

Article excerpt

Many environmental reporters say they and their media are committing less time and effort to environmental reporting.

Environmental issues have been one of the major concerns in Americans' daily lives and have received more and more media coverage, especially during the last two decades. However, while a great deal of information about environmental issues is reported in various media, little is known about environmental journalists. The present study provides descriptive information on environmental reporters and also looks at how personal demographic characteristics and the medium for which they work affect the professional behavior of environmental journalists.

Environmental reporting is a relatively new area of journalism. Not until the late 1950s did the environment and related terms enter the mass media lexicon as a way of labeling this new way of looking at humankind-habitat relationships.(1) Although journalists began to cover environmental issues early in the 1950s in the U.S., environmental reporting was not recognized as a distinctive beat for a long time. As William Witt noted in his pioneering study of environmental reporters more than two decades ago, "Emerging beats such as the environmental beat might be expected to be particularly difficult to describe because they represent areas of rapid change. In fact, until they reach some general level of acceptance, one is never quite certain that they are distinct enough to warrant being treated as a separate beat."(2)

The recognition of environmental reporting as a beat in news media grew in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the wave of rapidly increasing environmental reporting. Environmental degradation first became a popular media issue in the late 1960s.(3) However, even in 1973, Witt found that fewer than half of respondents in his survey were specifically considered to be environmental reporters, specialists or writers.(4) By 1993, a study of environmental reporting found that only half of the newspapers and 26 percent of local television stations had someone specifically assigned to cover environmental issues. But relatively few of these reporters cover environmental issues exclusively. In many newsrooms, environmental stories go to general assignment reporters.(5) Environmental journalists were part of the group of science writers. However, a group of environmental reporters in 1990 founded the Society of Environmental Journalists that specifically focused on their reporting interest.(6)

Environmental reporters did not attract much attention in previous scholarly research. Witt's was one of only a few specifically focusing on environmental issues. Witt drew his profile of environmental journalists from a list of 95 environmental reporters identified in Editor & Publisher, of whom 62 responded from 53 newspapers.(7) He found that the typical respondent was a 31- to 40-year-old male who had a bachelor's degree in journalism and had worked 7.3 years on general assignment before getting an environmental beat. Respondents' most frequently used news sources were conservation organizations, government and business. They primarily covered ongoing pollution problems as well as topics that the government considered to be environmental problems.(8)

A study by the Scientists' Institute for Public Information in 1992 focused on environmental coverage by small newspapers. Questionnaires were sent to the 136 small dailies which responded to a nationwide survey SIPI conducted in 1989. Of the 120 papers responding to the survey, 66.7 percent reported that their coverage of environmental stories had increased since 1989. The survey also showed a 41 percent increase in newspapers with environmental beats.(9) Consistent with this survey, a longitudinal study of agenda setting for the issue of environmental pollution from 1970 to 1990 found media coverage had increased.(10)

Although environmental journalism has increased during the past 20 years, journalists covering the environment have been concerned about the quality of the reporting. …

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