Three resources for building your environmental beat as a journalist

A person wearing white gloves taking environmental samples in dirt.

I didn’t love working at my local NPR radio station for the first few months. Writing one-minute stories covering Abilene, Texas city council lawn mowing contracts and library fundraisers wasn’t  the high-impact journalism I had in mind when I became a journalism major. And worse than not feeling like I wasn’t making an impact – I was bored to tears. 

Luckily, I have a great boss who switched me from city council to the station’s environmental beat reporter. I started writing both one-minute daily news stories on things like drought conditions and local environmental advocacy efforts, and even wrote  full features on wildfires and city tree removal projects in Texas. In just one semester, Texas Standard Radio producers picked up three of my stories and broadcast them all over the state – which is pretty cool as a junior in college. 

Now that I write about things I care about, my NPR job is way more fun. But, I had no idea where to start when I started  building my beat. 

Here are three of my favorite resources I consistently go back to when writing stories that will help you build your environmental beat as a journalist.

The National Weather Service

The National Weather Service is a great resource for climate change stories when it comes to droughts, temperatures, precipitation –  any weather pattern you can think of. The website offers detailed weather forecasts, radars, news stories and more, but my favorite feature is a full past weather record that reporters can use to see how weather patterns differ over the years. 

I love using these charts for stories to compare current weather to weather in past years. For instance, I might say something like, “ In June, Abilene’s average high temperature was 99.5 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. That’s much hotter than June of last year, when the average was 91.1.”  

Using comparative data is helpful for giving readers (or listeners) a point of reference for why high temperatures, little rainfall, excessive snowfall – or whatever your story is about – is newsworthy. 

Local Universities 

Universities have  smart professors who know a lot about their field  and – generally speaking – like to talk about it. Researching and sharing that information is their job, so some of my best interviews have been with professors. And they are usually pretty easy to get in contact with. Most colleges have a website with their faculty listed, usually with a full list of what each professor teaches and their email addresses. 

Getting a scientific voice is key for environmental stories, and professors of biology, ecology and any other relevant “ology” are great sources for that. 

Your State’s Forest Agency 

The Texas A&M Forest Service is probably the most useful resource I utilize when writing stories. Not only do  forest service officials provide information on wildfires, but the website content is created by  a  knowledgeable team of ecologists and other science professionals that speak on all sorts of environmental issues in your state – and every state has one! 

I’ve also found that even if no one within the service is able to do an interview with me on a particular story, the media team  refers me to other agencies and contacts. Although the media team will of course be different from state to state, their job is to get us (the media) the connections we need to tell our stories, so I typically hear back from them quickly and get interviews set up easily. You can find media contacts on the forest service’s website.

Any other sources I use are on a case-by-case basis depending on what the story needs, but these are sources I consistently come back to. 

Always remember to give your sources proper attribution, and the more stories you do, the more connections you’ll make for future stories. Good luck! 

A picture of an environmental journalist in a tree on assignment in Texas
A picture of a tree after a wildfire

Sheridan Wood will be a senior year at Abilene Christian University this Fall, pursing a degree in journalism and minors in global studies, history and professional writing. She is a current OWAA intern and works as the feature editor of her college newspaper and the assistant news director at Abilene’s local NPR station, KACU 89.5. When she’s not writing, Wood can be found backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking (as you might expect from an OWAA intern) and helping with ancient rock art research projects. Wood is also an Outdoor Writers Association of America student member.

OWAA Student Membership

Are you a student enrolled in a course of study at the secondary or higher education level? If yes, you qualify to join as an Outdoor Writers Association of America Student Member. As a student member, you have access to most outdoor media Individual Membership benefits.

Our members are comprised of outdoor media including environmental journalists, environmental writers, filmmakers, podcasters, environmental beat photographers and so much more. Learn more about the benefits of an OWAA Individual Membership today!

A great place to network with other outdoor media professionals and environmental journalists is at our OWAA annual conference. The next conference will be in Gulf Shores, Alabama, September 9-11, 2023.

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