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Green Jobs: what does an Environmental Journalist do?

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8 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Environmental journalist interviews man by wind turbines

Being an Environmental Journalist (similar role titles include Environmental Reporter or Sustainability Journalist), is a great opportunity to highlight the important impact the food and drinks industry has on the environment and climate change. It is an exciting career path to follow, which can significantly impact what people know about the environment, climate change and the food they eat and drink.

Marthe de Ferrer is an Environmental Reporter at Euronews Green, which has developed significantly as a publication in the past few years.“When I first started, I worked for Euronews Living, it was a sustainable lifestyle platform, which then pivoted to being entirely environmental.” she says. “We take more of a top down approach now, which I think is really important. You know, cutting out systemic issues in the food and drink industry, whether it’s about factory farming, or issues around sustainable agriculture, or access to food as well.”

To become an Environmental Journalist, with a specific focus on the food sector, you need to be flexible, and should be prepared to not be able to write about this topic straightaway. Journalists tend to find their niche over time, and it can sometimes take several years to figure out what you want to write about, as well as establish yourself by getting bylines with well-known publications and websites that report on the food industry and climate change.

“It’s so cliché but obviously you have to be passionate about what you do,” says Marthe. “Learning to appreciate the nuance and the shades of grey is so important, because I really think that the journalist’s job is to take an issue that looks very black and white and say to people ‘here’s all the nuances, here’s all the different takes.'”

What are the job responsibilities?

  • Finding suitable news and features to write which relate to food and the environment through Twitter, press releases, contact lists, newsletters, important conferences or other in-person or virtual events
  • Pitching the stories to the publication you are working or freelancing for
  • Interviewing sources for articles, in person, online or by phone (it can sometimes involve cold calling depending on the urgency of the story)
  • Transcribing interviews and picking the right quotes to feature in a story from the transcription
  • Creating and editing copy to fit a certain house style (the stories picked will differ depending on the publication you work for or pitch to)
  • Responding to breaking news by writing up a story promptly, or finding an angle for a longer story at a later stage
  • Occasionally sub-editing (proofreading and factchecking) work by other colleagues if your publication does not employ sub-editors
  • Speaking with picture editors to decide on the visuals accompanying a piece
  • Communicating with the lead editor with regards to what is being published

Who might your employers be?

Environmental journalists are hired by a wide range of national publications in the UK including The Independent, the Guardian, The Times, The BBC, The Telegraph, or the Financial Times. Other publications with a solely environmental focus are also becoming more popular and well-established, such as Green Alliance, or Envirotech. Food-based publications with a focus on the food and drink industry’s impact on the environment also exist, such as Food Matters Live!

What qualifications do you need?

While you can get into journalism in the UK without going to university, you could find it more difficult to be employed by a large number of institutions without a professional qualification, or a decent portfolio of work with reputable publications. There aren’t any courses specifically dedicated to Environmental Journalism as it’s a fairly modern field, and you generally need to get a grasp of a lot of different types of journalism before homing in on a niche.

One of the most common qualifications is an NCTJ-accredited course (National Council for the Training of Journalists.) Some of these programmes can be completed straight after finishing secondary school with five GCSEs (with one of these being in English), and two A-levels.

Some undergraduate NCTJ-approved courses in Journalism include:

  • BA (Hons) in Multimedia Journalism at Bournemouth University
  • BA (Hons) in Journalism at Leeds Trinity University
  • BA (Hons) at University of Central Lancashire
  • BA (Hons) at University of Kent
  • BA Journalism at University of Sheffield

Other types of courses include fast-track diplomas which usually last around 18 weeks. Some places that currently offer these include:

  • City Liverpool College
  • Glasgow Clyde College
  • The Sheffield College

Independent bodies like PA Training and News Associates also offer their own-fast track programmes, both full and part-time. To get onto these courses you often have to sit an entrance exam or be invited for an interview with the teaching staff to determine your eligibility.

Part of completing the NCTJ course requires taking training on and passing shorthand at 100wpm, as well as passing an exam in media law. Having these two qualifications will be useful in the future however, as they’re often skills that employers at national newspapers are keen to see.

There is also the possibility of being recruited by a regional or national paper to take a fast-track NCTJ course. Alternatively, the employer may also have their own specific training programme.

Nowadays, a high number of journalists enter the field with an accredited Master’s.

Some of these include:

  • MA Interactive Journalism at City, University of London
  • MA International Journalism at City, University of London
  • MA Journalism at University of Sheffield

Other suitable MA courses can also have accreditation from the Professional Publishers Association, which is also highly regarded by employers, such as the MA Journalism course at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Besides the basic qualifications, getting work experience during the term holidays, or whenever possible, is key to building a porfolio with a food and environmental focus. Publications don’t always advertise internships so emailing around with examples of past published work is the best way to secure experience.

What is the salary like?

The starting salary for an Environmental Journalist very much depends on what sort of publication you’re writing for and whether you’re in or outside of London. Trainee reporter roles for newspapers can range between £12,000-18,000, depending on if its a local or national newspaper. A starting salary usually ranges form £21,000 to £30,000 for staff reporters according to the latest recorded statistics from Journo Resources.

When getting work experience, depending where you are in the UK and which publications you apply to, you might also be able to get paid with a salary ranging anywhere between £12,000 to £20,000pm. If you’re looking to do a short-term internship (e.g. two weeks) you should be prepared to have to work for free. Finding a good publication with a supportive team however is great to build your network, and it could land you a job in the future if you work well and stay in touch with your mentors/colleagues.

Where will you be working?

Since the start of the pandemic, journalism has involved a lot more working from home: writing, doing interviews over the phone and even attending events through Zoom. Depending on the geographical location of the stories being covered, it is likely that the working environment will take place most of the time in a newsroom, at home, or in an office with other editorial staff. Occassional visits to sites to do interviews could become more popular again in the future.

What’s the career progression like?

It is common to start out as a staff reporter at a publication where you may not write on the food industry and the environment. Marthe, for example, started out as a breaking news reporter, and then a sports journalist, which she still reports on occasionally for The BBC. If you work hard enough though, you will find ways to write about the food industry and climate change by making great pitches and building a portfolio that veers towards this direction.

Marthe says: “There’s a great organisation called Covering Climate Now, which Euronews Green are a part of, and one of their mottos is ‘every journalist is a climate journalist’, [and I agree with this], because it’s the most important issue of our time.”

“That’s why you want to go to journalism knowing about biodiversity, the climate crisis, and global warming as much as you can. You don’t have to have had a science background to do that, my background is not in science, and most of my team’s background is not in science. Our job is to distil science and communicate science.”

To achieve progression in the field of environmental journalism, with the right training and several years of experience, you can become a chief reporter in the field, or even transition over to being a section editor. The job also offers the opportunity to work in public relations or media and content management in a press office.

Is there demand for this job?

The climate crisis is one of, if not the most important of all topics to cover right now says Marthe, “It’s bigger than COVID, it’s bigger than national politics. It is so overwhelmingly important and it touches absolutely everything.”

She believes people will continue to be interested by food and drink too, as it is such an integral aspect of our everyday lives. “Whatever people eat every single day, it’s a deeply personal choice, and I think that’s why people are really interested in how the food map is changing, and having more of a connection with what’s on their plate.”

According to Marthe, if a global newsroom doesn’t have any environmental coverage, “they’re behind.” It’s very likely that departments for environmental reporting will continue to increase over the next two to three years. “As far as there is demand in this industry, there definitely is for environmental [reporting].”

For more jobs in the food industry, visit Food Matters Live’s Preparing for a career in food

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