Hon­ing the green pen

Youths can high­light en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns as cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists who dig deeper into the is­sues.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - Ta­pes­try by SHARYN SHU­FIYAN

LAST Satur­day, I had a pro­duc­tive day where I con­ducted a ses­sion on cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism to par­tic­i­pants of #Pow­erShiftMsia, a 5-day workshop camp or­gan­ised by a group of cli­mate change ad­vo­cates to cul­ti­vate young en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers in Malaysia.

#Pow­erShiftMsia was borne out of the de­ter­mi­na­tion to cre­ate a na­tional move­ment call­ing for cli­mate ac­tion. It is the lo­cal off­spring of a global ini­tia­tive, Global Power Shift, a sum­mit in Tur­key held last June and at­tended by young cli­mate lead­ers around the world. Th­ese cli­mate lead­ers then took away new knowl­edge and skills to start their own ini­tia­tives in their own coun­tries.

My one-hour ses­sion in­tro­duced them to cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism – a new wave of jour­nal­ism that is par­tic­i­pa­tory and guer­rilla and gain­ing ground all over the world, so much so that even CNN and The Guardian have mi­cro-sites ded­i­cated to cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists.

To pre­pare for my ses­sion, I needed some ex­am­ples of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­port­ing done by cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists but it was harder to find than ex­pected, es­pe­cially new sto­ries. Af­ter the furore over Ly­nas had died down, it seemed so too had the fo­cus on the en­vi­ron­ment. News re­ports on the en­vi­ron­ment in gen­eral, are too few and far be­tween.

It re­minded me of a project that I was once a part of when I was at­tached to Wild Asia (an en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy group). The project was called Re­spon­si­ble Jour­nal­ists and our aim was to see an in­crease in en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ries by in­spir­ing and en­cour­ag­ing prac­tic­ing jour­nal­ists to re­port more on green is­sues.

Part of this project was to con­duct quan­ti­ta­tive re­search to gain insight into the state of en­vi­ron­men­tal news re­port­ing in Malaysia.

Based on the re­search, we found that en­vi­ron­men­tal news in Malaysia rarely makes it to the front page un­less it is dis­as­ter-re­lated. It’s only when there is a big flood, or a mas­sive earth­quake, or haze that seems to last for­ever, that the me­dia pro­duces more sto­ries re­lated to the en­vi­ron­ment or cli­mate change.

Sud­denly, there’s a surge of “ex­perts” tak­ing their cue to speak about the cli­mate, sus­tain­abil­ity, clean en­ergy, etc. Then just as quickly, it all dies down. What I find lack­ing is a con­ti­nu­ity of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues in our me­dia. Be­cause, when some­thing is no longer “trendy” or “sig­nif­i­cant”, en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy groups will find it harder to be heard and taken se­ri­ously.

But the me­dia is a busi­ness and at the end of the day, news that sells is what re­ally mat­ters. Un­less you are a me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion that makes it a point to high­light is­sues of pub­lic in­ter­est, rather than merely re­port­ing what he or she says. On a more pos­i­tive note, I am be­gin­ning to see more lo­cal news agen­cies tak­ing a risk and ini­tia­tive to be more in­ves­tiga­tive.

En­vi­ron­men­tal news can some­times come off as purely “press con­fer­ence” or “push” re­ports, mean­ing that the reporter was sent to cover the story and an ar­ti­cle was pub­lished be­cause an or­gan­i­sa­tion or gov­ern­ment agency called for a press con­fer­ence.

This prac­tice needs to change to cul­ti­vate a cul­ture of en­vi­ron­men­tally-aware re­port­ing. En­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ism in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia feeds off ro­bust civil so­ci­ety move­ments, and greater ex­po­sure for th­ese groups give them greater in­flu­ence and en­able them to grow and get more re­sources to con­duct ex­ten­sive re­search, which in turn ben­e­fit the me­dia as cred­i­ble sources of in­for­ma­tion. They are thus part­ners in gen­er­at­ing news, rather than “en­vi­ron­men­tal thugs”, as the au­thor­i­ties once branded a cer­tain vo­cal, green ad­vo­cacy group.

But en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues can be quite com­pli­cated and com­plex to wrap our heads around. Un­til to­day, there are still a lot of lay peo­ple who can’t re­ally un­der­stand cli­mate change and it does not help to have naysay­ers negat­ing facts and ev­i­dence with their own mud­dled jus­ti­fi­ca­tions of why nat­u­ral dis­as­ters are get­ting more fre­quent and in­tense this past decade. Es­pe­cially when th­ese naysay­ers are au­thor­ity fig­ures!

In or­der for en­vi­ron­men­tal news to ap­peal to the pub­lic, the com­plex is­sues need to be first un­der­stood by the jour­nal­ists and then dis­tilled for the reader. News sto­ries with a strong vis­ual ap­peal also buy the in­ter­est of read­ers. That is why I love the in­fo­graph­ics at Good (good.is) which are in­ter­ac­tive as they break down facts and fig­ures in visu­ally ap­peal­ing ta­bles, charts, graphs and other vis­ual forms.

To make an is­sue or topic con­sum­able, I re­ally think there needs to be a com­bi­na­tion of text, vi­su­als and in­ter­ac­tiv­ity. We live in a highly-me­di­ated world and our at­ten­tion span is shrink­ing, so en­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ism re­ally needs to play catch up. Given the in­creas­ing promi­nence of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues in our lives and pub­lic pol­icy, it is im­por­tant that we im­prove the qual­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of en­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ism to nur­ture an aware and in­formed pub­lic.

The beauty of cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism is that you are not bound by me­dia con­straints – how­ever it must be noted that a dis­tinc­tion must be made be­tween a cit­i­zen jour­nal­ist and a blog­ger whereby the for­mer is, to an ex­tent, still guided by jour­nal­ism ethics and prac­tices.

A strong cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism move­ment in the coun­try can fill gaps in our en­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ism.

So, as young en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers learn how to har­vest and harness their pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment into ac­tivism, they should not un­der­es­ti­mate the power of the me­dia. And, they def­i­nitely should not dis­miss the pos­si­bil­ity that power lies in their own hands.

Sharyn Shu­fiyan be­lieves that cul­tures adorn a so­ci­ety, much like Ta­pes­try on a piece of cloth. She puts on an an­thro­po­log­i­cal hat to dis­cuss Malaysia’s cul­tures, sub­cul­tures and so­ci­ety (ies). Write to her at star2@ thes­tar.com.my

Tak­ing the ini­tia­tive: youths can ad­vo­cate green causes as cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists. This is a file pic­ture of ahmed al-Omran, a well known Saudi blog­ger.

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