The role of environmental journalism in promoting food sustainability

July 13, 2018

Climate change, food safety, migration. Agriculture, resilience, resource management. These are just some of the terms most frequently used by the media, especially at international level. They are all terms taken from environmental journalism, an area of journalism that brings together scientific knowledge, social awareness and political preparation. It is capable of communicating the challenges that humanity will face in the next millennium, on a changing planet and in a split society still quite some distance from a shared well-being. Scientific and environmental journalism today needs to relate on the one hand with the urgency with which the scientific world has brought climate change to everyone's attention, and on the other to respond to a politicization of science and socio-political polarization across the globe. This is why the role of environmental journalism will be vital to raise awareness not just amid public opinion as regards the major issues of our time.

The birth of environmental journalism
The birth of environmental journalism generally coincides with the publishing in 1962 of the book by Rachel Carson entitled "Silent Spring", acknowledged at international level as the manifesto of the environmental movement. The movements grew throughout the 1960s and '70s, influencing public opinion on many of the issues linked to protecting the environment and nature. The Society of Environmental Journalists was set up in 1990. This non-profit association groups together and "strengthens the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues". From then on, journalism as a profession was given a new lease of life, with the birth of associations, such as the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), whose mission was to support the role of expert journalists in science, technology and the environment, encouraging their training and working to ensure that issues requiring technical knowledge to be addressed by professionals with the relevant skill set. The WFSJ also launched programs to support scientific and environmental journalism and the role of the environmental and investigative reporter in Developing countries, where their presence can truly make a difference, informing farmers and citizens on good sustainability practices. 

A new era for scientific and environmental journalism
In recent years, the media world has undergone a profound transformation, partly also dictated by a new type of use of contents and new information platforms, with the Internet ranked first. The slowdown in sales incurred by even the most high-profile newspapers has led editorial offices to review their figures and balance sheets. And transform the role of the scientific and environmental journalist. Despite this, a study published on Frontiers in Communication states that "scientific and environmental journalists today are producing a journalism that's better than ever before, often publishing on new generations of digital magazines that focus on science". Many of these media are financed by foundations such as BCFN, but they retain their editorial independence and often provide contents for more traditional media.

Protect the planet? Food is the answer

This topic was also addressed during the latest International Journalism Festival held in Perugia, which brings together hundreds of journalists from all over the world and dozens of experiences and trends in communication each year. In her speech, Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General of Inter Press Service (IPS), an international press agency specializing in news and analyses from the South of the world, emphasized the urgent need to enhance the capacity of developing country journalists for them to be able to write analytical commentary to enhance awareness of communities on food sustainability and climate change and influence the food choices of the general public while also drawing attention of decision makers to take the right measure on policies. 

The Food Sustainability Media Award
A great many funds and projects have been developed over the years to promote quality environmental journalism, capable of collecting not just sources and successful stories, but also of investigating the most topical issues today: pollution, hogging of resources, loss of biodiversity, climate change. Agriculture and food can but play a predominant role in the creation of contents and stories with a superior journalistic value. For this reason, the BCFN Foundation and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have launched the Food Sustainability Media Award, an international contest to reward journalistic excellence capable of reporting on food from a different perspective and cast the spotlight on food sustainability. The major issues are those linked to the three food paradoxes, which more than anything else constitute the obstacles to achieving a more even distribution of resources on the planet.