Last week’s earthquake and tsunami, which killed and displaced thousands in Palu, Indonesia, are the latest reminder of just how much destruction environmental disasters can create. But plenty catastrophes don’t lead to immediate casualties, and instead have disastrous long-term impact. That’s where investigative journalists come in.
“Make it about the people. Look for the story behind the environmental issue,” said Philip Jacobson, editor at environmental news site Mongabay.com at Uncovering Asia 2018, a gathering of investigative reporters from the region and beyond. This will attract the readers, and make politicians and industry listen, Jacobson said.
His team recently uncovered massive corruption in the palm oil industry that has led to Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crises. Jacobson said publicly available data, reliable sources and gumshoe reporting made the investigation possible.
“I hope that it will not only lead to more awareness but also that some licenses for oil fields might actually be revoked,” said Jacobson.
Such hard-hitting stories come with challenges. For example, it was difficult for the environmental journalists to map out the company’s structure. “I hope to find journalists here who can tell me how to discover conglomerates easier,” said Jacobson, highlighting the advantages of collaboration.
“The environment is not a sexy topic, but we have to make it one,” argued panelist Sapariah “Arie” Saturi, senior writer and editor at Mongabay in Indonesia, adding: “It is one of the most important issues these days.” Saturi addressed how her outlet decides which stories to go after, and how to make the public care in a presentation.
Abu Siddique, editor at Bengal Delta in Bangladesh, also discussed the challenges of in-depth environmental investigations. For his sweeping story on the devastating effects of the salinity level of the Ganges, Siddique said he had an overwhelming amount of visual material he did not know how to use, difficulty getting and connecting the right data, and the challenges of reporting a clandestine story on the ground.
Uncovering environmental degradation and, often, the corruption associated with it, is a tough task. Remembering to focus on the impact should help keep your eye on the ball.
Finja Seroka is a journalist from Germany who has completed the KAS multimedia program. She has studied economics in Germany and Spain and now also works as a project manager at a renewable energy company, Naturstrom AG.