Journalism courses: new paths into environmental journalism

Around the world, universities are adapting their journalism courses to the trends in sustainability topics. Developments in environmental journalism are especially visible in Germany.

Green topics have become more important in recent years. It is therefore not only companies that have reacted to the trend and discovered sustainability as a new marketing tool. The trend can be observed in journalism courses as well, because more new degree courses in environmental journalism are being offered at universities. Experts regard this as an important development, since crises such as climate change, the extinction of species, and overfishing are making it increasingly necessary to have specialist journalistic knowledge. According to people such as Prof. Gerd Michelsen of the University of Lüneburg in Germany, it is just as important that journalists become familiar with the term ‘sustainability’ because research in this field generates many new topics for the media.

Environmental journalism in the USA

Right now the trend towards environmental journalism is especially visible in Germany. The new developments are modelled on degree courses and modules at American universities. Environmental journalism has a long tradition there. And the Society for Environmental Journalism (SEJ) is a strong specialist association that also collaborates with universities.

The SEJ publishes a list of programmes and courses containing 31 addresses that help young journalists enter environmental journalism in the USA. One of the centres is the University of Colorado in Boulder. But there are also lots of activities and courses in journalism on offer available at other universities, such as Michigan State University’s Knight Centre for Environmental Journalism, the University of California in Berkeley and New York University.

Journalism courses: new developments in Germany

In Germany such degree courses are only just becoming established. Almost simultaneously, a number of universities are setting up environmental journalism projects. The University of Lüneburg offers journalists with work experience the chance to qualify for a certificate in ‘Sustainability and Journalism’. It covers topics such as sustainability and politics, green ethics, environmental awareness and economic aspects of sustainable development. The subject is deliberately intended to be sustainability and not simply the environment – one reason for this is that journalists should expand the understanding of environmental topics by adding social and economic aspects.

At other places, too, journalism courses are reacting to the environmental trend. The TU Dortmund University launched its ‘Media Doctor ENVIRONMENT’ project in the spring of 2013, in which environmental journalists grade articles according to fixed criteria. And not far away there is the first opportunity to do a Bachelor’s degree in environmental journalism: the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences has included the focus ‘environmental sciences’ in its Technology and Innovations Communications degree course. A similar approach has been taken by the Ansbach University of Applied Sciences, which very recently advertised a chair of environmental journalism for its degree course in Specialist Journalism.

Research and teaching in environmental journalism are also expanding at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. It offers seminars as part of its degree courses in online journalism and scientific journalism. In addition, a team in the Forum Futura project is setting up a research platform for green topics, which will go online in summer 2013. It will list many tips and sources, along with ideas for aspects such as storytelling and data journalism.

Continuing education in environmental journalism worldwide

Developments like these in journalism courses are taking place not only in Germany. Austria and France also have lively debates on environmental journalism. Degree courses are also available in Latin America and Asia. In these regions European foundations such as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung continually offer seminars in environmental journalism. One of the world leaders in this field is the Earth Journalism Network in the USA. The Deutsche Welle Akademie in Germany is also active in training and continuing education for environmental journalists.

The motive behind all these offerings is clear: the media will only be able to produce competent reports on the environment and sustainability if they independently expand their knowledge of these topics. Specialist knowledge is also required for critical observation of other systems such as the economy and politics – which is a fundamental task for journalists around the globe. This kind of critical check is especially important in the debate on sustainability, where many things are unclear and ‘greenwashing’ occurs.

July 2013

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