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.
 



 

 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Journalists reporting on the environment in Australia 1995-2000

Janice Withnall   University of Western Sydney

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.
 



 

 

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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