Research Report on a Pilot Study on Environment Reporting in Australia by armedman1


									Abstract submitted for
Research and Practice in Science Journalism

                      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:

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

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

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.

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