Friday, April 1, 2011

Environmental Reporting: Tips from an Editor

By Courtney Leiva

As a student-journalist approaching graduation, I often wonder what happens when we enter the next phase of life that most call the real world.

For some of us, that real world might be writing on the latest styles and fashions, while for others it might tackling top political stories. One can only hope for some jobswith the direction that this job market has been going recently.

Last Friday, I got a strong whiff of the real world of working as an environmental reporter. Our sharp tongued, witty, guest speaker, Claude Deltieure, an assignment editor at The Record, gave us the nuts and the bolts of environmental journalism.

As we all know, the environment is more important now than ever I learned that environmental journalism is not just about life, death, and our natural world, but also about making a difference, understanding empathy, and the importance of critical thinking.

And our guest speaker didn’t hold back, as one of the first things he told us was that big corporations that pollute don’t care who they hurt or who they kill as long as they make a profit.

He also told us that many reporters like ourselves didn’t use critical thinking like we should. He said one reporter in his newsroom couldn’t subtract 14 from 100. That point I knew the pressure was on.

But in all hindsight, everything that he was saying was true as environmental reporters have a very important role in journalism because making a difference is what good journalism is all about.

Mr. Deliteure said there were differences made because of The Record’s environmental reporting. For example, the paper broke the story of toxic chromium found in a woman’s apartment walls. It also uncovered devious actions by a town that resulted in saving an historic site that once belonged to the Native Americans. The land was then blessed by Lenape Indians, one of the last Native American tribes in New Jersey, who were driven out to Oklahoma.

He noted the persistent efforts of our professor who made a difference in reporting the wrongdoings of the Ford vehicle plant and how their toxic paint afflicted the residents of a Native American community. Our teacher was up for the Pulitzer Prize. That was something also I had no idea about.

Overall, my eyes were open last Friday morning as I got a big dose of reality of the world of a environmental reporter and learned most of all that good reporting isn’t telling the top stories but telling what is going to happen next because of those top stories.

Here are some tips I picked up from last Friday’s guest speaker.

•Always think critically. Break down your story. Ask yourself if this is so what can it be? Did the government do its job?

•Learn the law and always think of the law when dealing with environmentally related stores.

•Avoid narrative journalism, instead of reporting what happened last night, report on what happens tomorrow because of last night.

•Always use common sense and try to see the bigger picture when it comes to reporting.

•Localize your story. It helps readers relate to the topic as well as helping them visualize how this story affects them.

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