Research Report on a Pilot Study on Environment Reporting in Australia
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Abstract submitted for Research and Practice in Science Journalism JOURNALISTS REPORTING ON THE ENVIRONMENT IN AUSTRALIA 1995 - 2000 Janice Withnall, University of Western Sydney, Australia School of Communication and Media, PO Box 10, Kingswood, NSW, Australia, 2747 Tel:+61-2-96787326, Fax: +61-2-96787399, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org The purpose of this study was threefold. The first aim was to gain an understanding of who is reporting on the environment in Australia in the mid-to late 1990s and how they were going about this task. The study investigated the journalist’s background, process of work and perceived role in disseminating environment information through their selected medium. The second aim was to describe the 'earthbeat' in Australia and establish what development stage it had reached compared to North America and South East Asia. The third aim is to explain why environment reporting is at this particular stage, and to suggest ways to further develop environment reporting in Australia. The research applied four methods of sample construction and data collection to ensure a rich picture. All data was coded and entered into a relational database and analysed. Analysis followed nominated lines of inquiry moving to typologies with intervening conditions noted. The findings were compared to the demographics of Australian journalists, specialist business/finance journalists and rural journalists. A contextual framework of political, economic, social, environmental and technological issues and events at the time of data collection was employed to further interpret the findings. It was found that news concerning the environment was reported on by, in the main, general reporters and a few specialist environment reporters, environment writers and broadcasters. The characteristics of a reporter, writer and broadcaster were distinctive. The lack of formal qualifications in environment studies or science was marked and pointed to a need for a structured education and professional development training. In the main journalists were young, inexperienced and earned a lower salary. This result was a stark contrast to business/finance journalists data. Environment reporting in Australia does not appear to exhibit the 'earthbeat' characteristics of North America and South East Asia. Differences arose in self-identity, situated work activity, style and type of interactions and the news organisation setting ie reporters covering environment news do not receive strong editorial or publisher support. The lack of journalists wanting to continue involvement, and the unusually high number of journalists who wished to influence public policy decisions are indicators that environmental reporting in Australia needs to be developed further and that a cooperative approach must be initiated to make progress. Journalists seemed to be more receptive to participating in research if they were able to volunteer information. Resistance rose as particular information was pursued. The style of interview, telephone or in-person, and method of questioning made a difference to the amount and quality of responses. Learning more about the ways of studying working journalists were a secondary and worthwhile outcome of the research. The next stage of the project is to develop an international project to compare these findings with findings about journalists reporting on the environment in Pacific Rim countries during 2000-2005.