Environmental Reporter


Environmental reporters are journalists who specialize in gathering and presenting environmental information that is newsworthy and timely. Like all journalists, they write, film, and transcribe news reports, commentaries, and features for a variety of media, including print, television, radio, and the Internet. It is important for all environmental reporters and journalists in general to be innately curious, creative, and persistent in order to get the job done.

Television news reporter in live transmission smiling in front of the video camera in studio

At a glance

Imagine you have just received a phone call from one of your contacts at the provincial fish and wildlife department who says the whole department has been put on emergency alert because an oil tanker has run ashore just off the Atlantic coast. You are an environmental reporter and this is the kind of insider information you have hoped for your entire career. According to your source, the tanker is slowly leaking oil into the bay, which could threaten a rare fish habitat nearby. There have been no official announcements yet regarding the oil tanker, but you are already preparing your story.

As an environmental reporter for a large news organization, you have unique specialized skills to cover stories like this one, but you are a journalist at heart and this is exciting stuff. Time is of the essence because you want to be the one to break the story. You race to your assignment editor to tell him about the scoop. Then you call your news director to tell her you will have a major piece in a few hours and ask her to notify the network’s national news centre in Toronto. You grab your camera person and head to the scene, spending the travel time researching and reading up on the area and the fish habitat. You want to be the first media team on the scene so you can get the first pictures of the breaking story.

As exhilarated as you feel right now, you know you’re in for an exhausting week. A story this large will take over your life for the next few days: when you aren’t filming updates and patching in to news broadcasts, you will be interviewing experts and residents or gathering information from technical journals and other news sources. You will continue to report on this story as it develops, from the initial tanker accident to the leak’s long-term environmental impact.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental reporter:

  • Gather news and information by interviewing people and attending events, for example scheduled news conferences, assignments from editors, and unforeseen events.
  • Develop contacts and generate original story ideas.
  • Arrange and conduct interviews and double-check information.
  • Research background information for reports and articles.
  • Write clear and concise stories.
  • Review and edit reports and articles for publication or broadcasting using established styles and formats, including editing for time or space.
  • Record detailed information, including personal observations and interviews, using cameras, cassette recorders, and personal notes.
  • Discuss assignments with other reporters, assignment editors, news directors, and television program producers.
  • Present news in final form, for example print or broadcast.

Work environment

Environmental reporters work in a variety of locations, including:

In the office:

  • Conducting telephone interviews, calling story contacts, and gathering information
  • Looking for potential stories by researching on the Internet and in news releases and documents
  • Writing and editing stories
  • Choosing photos or clips and other visuals, and voicing and mixing stories
  • Responding to requests for information from the public

In the field:

  • Conducting interviews
  • Following up on stories and meeting new contacts
  • Taking photos and gathering visuals for a story 

Where to work

There are a number of places environmental reporters can find employment. They include:

  • Television and radio broadcasting companies
  • Newspaper and magazine publishers
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
  • Freelance journalist

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental reporter, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • English
  • Biology
  • Social Studies

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental reporter is a college technical diploma. 

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental reporter, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Journalism
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Environmental Studies

Although it is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an environmental reporter, many practitioners choose to belong to professional associations. The requirements for membership vary among provinces.

Salary

Environmental reportersat all levels, working part-time or full-time, make between $19,000 and $60,000 per year in Canada, with an average salary of $43,000.

Role Model

Eve Savory

My father did not work in an environmental occupation though he saw the world through the eyes of a naturalist. Under his guidance I grew up enjoying the wilderness of British Columbia and learning to respect its importance. I have witnessed extraordinary population growth in the coastal region during my lifetime and the corresponding loss of wilderness areas. It hurts me to see what one species can do to the planet. As a journalist I can inform people about these issues.

Mentors are valuable sources of inspiration and wisdom. A respected news anchor once told me "it’s not the ice time but how you play” meaning that the amount of time you are on the air is not as important as the quality of the segment. I started as a radio reporter and moved to television with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (C.B.C.) a short time later. Because my specialist area is science, medicine, environment and technology I read widely across many subjects to keep up with the latest events. I have not made a conscious effort to plan my career, however I have made an commitment to follow the advice given to me and keep the quality of my work at a high level. Along the way my adventures included eight visits to the Arctic to report on environmental matters. The learning curve has been steep on many occasions throughout my career and I am thankful for each experience.

If you do not keep up with current events in this line of work, you are not doing your job. I read four newspapers per day, many magazines, news releases, and emails. Watching television and listening to the radio is part of my work. When I have the chance I attend the Canadian Science Writer’s Association conference. It can be very challenging to keep up because you not only have to be familiar with what is happening, you need to be anticipating what is about to happen. A reporter has to always be ready for the next assignment.

There is a growing need for accurate reporting in this area. Awareness of environmental issues stimulates more interest in the environment. I believe the various environmental crises we are facing will become more and more evident and people will start to demand action from their politicians. For myself, I would love to see a new show on the C.B.C. where environmental issues could be discussed on a weekly basis. If the news value of these issues continues to increase we may see such a program.

I believe any one who wants to be a journalist needs a general university degree, preferably with a mix of science and the arts. It is important to learn as many subjects as possible as you never know where you might be assigned. Environmental reporters need to feel comfortable with the sciences, history, international affairs, politics, psychology, business, economics and other topics in order to cover issues properly. There are few news outlets that can afford to have one person assigned solely to the environment. It is more difficult to get a job as a journalist without a Masters degree in journalism. Once you have your education locate an intern position where you can demonstrate your ability to deliver a quality news item as a reporter or as an environmental columnist.

There are no typical hours for a reporter. Most reporters are always "on" and at some psychological level we are always looking for stories and absorbing information because you never can be sure what you will find useful. I can expect to be called at home, on weekends, even on holidays when big stories break. It’s more than worth it when I travel to important events, and am able to interview people who are making history. I have the opportunity to talk with many amazing people from various countries and I enjoy telling their stories to my audience.

I hope my reporting has helped raise awareness that we are losing the natural environment of our beautiful, livable, blue planet. We all bear individual responsibility. It is important for me to feel I’ve made a contribution, even if only one person is affected by my story.