In the latest issue of the journal Science Communication, David Sachsman, James Simon, and JoAnn Valenti report on their findings from a census survey of environmental reporters across the Pacific Northwest, New England, the South, and Rocky Mountain regions.
Here are some key findings from the study:
Pacific Northwest News Orgs Most Likely to Feature Environmental Beat
Audience demand seems to shape the decision to invest in the environmental beat. News organizations in the Pacific Northwest were more likely than their counterparts in other regions to have environmental reporters on staff, with 70% of newspapers and 21% of TV stations in the region featuring an environmental reporter. This compared to roughly half the newspapers in New England and the Mountain West, and 40% of newspapers in the South. Across these regions only a little more than 10% of the TV stations featured an environmental reporter.
Few Enviro Reporters Cover the Area Full-Time
Yet despite having a designated specialist in the area of the environment, many of these reporters, according to the study, juggled multiple duties. For example, only 29% of the journalists covering the environment beat in the Pacific Northwest carried the exclusive label of “environmental reporter/writer/correspondent.” Much more common across these regions was for the person assigned environmental stories to cover the beat only part-time, while carrying the full-time title of “general assignment reporter” or staff writer. Across reporters interviewed, the percentage of time spent covering environmental stories in the preceding twelve months ranged on average from 53.7% in the Pacific Northwest to a low of 39.7% in New England.
Enviro Reporters Exclusively White; Mostly Male; Political Independents; Regular Readers of the NYTimes; Earn Less than $60,000
Across regions, 90% or more of enviro reporters were white, and roughly 70% were male. In New England and the Pacific Northwest, when asked about political party affiliation, more than 60% self-identified as political independents, compared to 30% Democrat and 5% Republican in New England and 17% Democrat and 10% Republican in the Pacific Northwest. In the Mountain West, 49% of enviro reporters identified as independents, compared to 32% Democrat and 5.7% Republican. In the South, 47% identified as Independents, compared to 38% Democrat and 10% Republican.
To put party affiliation in context, a 2002 survey of U.S. journalists, found that across specialty, 37% identified as Democrats, 19% as Republicans, and 33.5% Independent. The US general electorate breaks down 32% Democrat, 32% Independent, and 31% Republican. The population of environmental reporters appears to skew much more moderate and non-partisan than the public at large.
In New England and the Pacific Northwest, only roughly 15% of reporters said they earned more than $60K a year, In the Mountain West and South, only 5% said they earned more than $60K.
When asked which newspaper other than their own they read regularly, approx. 65% of reporters in New England and the Pacific Northwest said the NYTimes, compared to 45% in the Mountain West and 42% in the South. Across these regions, in second place were the big regional papers including the Boston Globe, Denver Post, the Oregonian, and the Washington Post.
Environmental reporters on average were very experienced, with a median of 15 years in journalism. Thirty percent of enviro reporters in New England hold graduates degrees, 22% in the Mountain West, 16% in the Pacific Northwest, and 15% in the South.
Enviro Reporters Say They Rely Most Often on State Agencies and Local Groups as Sources; Least Often on Greenpeace, Federal Agencies, and Industry Organizations
In terms of source reliance, reporters were asked “Now I am going to read you a list of potential sources that you might use on environmental stories. Please tell me if you always use the source in your reporting, often use it, sometimes use it, rarely use it, or never use it. For example, [the Environmental Protection Agency], would you say that you always use the EPA as a source, often use it….etc.”
Across regions, environmental reporters said they were most likely to rely on state departments of environmental quality; local enviro groups; and local activist citizens as sources, and least likely to rely on industry organizations; Greenpeace, and federal agencies such as the EPA or FDA as sources.
Reporters List Time Constraints, Financial and Resource Constraints; and Size of News Hole as Greatest Barriers to Reporting on Environment
When asked” I’d like to find out whether certain people, problems, and institutions are a barrier in reporting on environmental stories. For example, would you say that [the size of the news hole] is always…often….a barrier in reporting on environmental stories…”
Across regions, roughly half of enviro reporters named time constraints as always or often a barrier. Between a quarter and 40% of reporters named financial, travel, or other resource constraints as a barrier; and between 15% and 25% of reporters named the size of the news hole. In the South, 28% of reporters named the “audience’s lack of technical knowledge on the environment” as a top barrier.