Adviser Update Adviser Update Winter 2018 - Page 41

41 Greening the Newsroom: Best practices in teaching environmental journalism By Beth Daley I ’ve been fortunate enough to teach journalism to scores of high school students over the past five years and watched them confront and grapple with the difficulties of journalism. We all know it’s not as easy as it looks. You have to gather accurate information. You have to be fair, even to people you may not like. You have to put words on a page in a hurry. It’s hard enough to teach the basics of writing a simple news story, let alone investigative reporting techniques. They began testing drinking water fountains in school hallways to see what chemicals were present. This pursuit taught them about primary sources and original report ing. A probe into a proposed new school building revealed that it was being built on an old dump with harmful chemicals. That taught them about public records. A simple count of idling cars outside a high school resulted in a powerful piece about global warming reduction strategies—and taught basic, critical interviewing techniques. One surprise in working with these student reporters has been that— overwhelmingly—they have a deep interest in pursuing meaningful stories about climate change. They’re concerned about drinking water. Pollution. Clean energy. Coastal erosion. The list is long. Yet their skills have not always matched their ambitions. The Pulitzer Prize-winning non- profit news outlet I work for, InsideClimate News, has been thinking hard about how best to engage and inspire students in the practice of environmental journalism. We think it’s an important goal: The ranks of environmental journalists have been hollowed out in the last decade at the precise time climate change and other environmental issues are growing in importance and relevance to our lives. It’s why the Hearst Foundations recently awarded us a grant to launch an inaugural high school environmental journalism institute in New York City this summer. Some don’t know how to find information, or became lost in the vast sea of federal, state or local environmental data. Others are scared away by the polarization and politicization around global warming. Many fall into the trap of false balance in aiming to avoid controversy. Some accept green washing without checking the claims of a school administration— or a Fortune 500 company. The end result is stories that lack clarity and impact on issues that require both. Thanks to some good advice from a teacher friend, I switched teaching tactics. Now, instead of teaching journalism or investigative reporting as a broad discipline, I teach journalism through the lens of the environment. Since I began doing so, students have awakened. Teaching environmental reporting covers the basics of journalism but it can also educate students to beware the spin of public relations campaigns, how to communicate science, develop topical and human story ideas and, ultimately, have real impact. Below are a few ideas and techniques that have engaged students I have worked with, and taught them original reporting, research, interviewing, sourcing and many other skills.