I interviewed Peter Hannam who covers environmental issues for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. We chatted about his career, as well as some tips he had for any aspiring environmental journalists looking to break into the field. Have a listen!
JM: Hey guys, it’s Jess here and welcome to my podcast. In my recent blog posts I explored some of the issues surrounding the state of environmental journalism both in the past and present.
I decided to have a chat to a working environmental journalist to help me understand what it’s really like working in this field, and shed some light on some these issues. I’ll let my guest introduce himself.
PH: I am Peter Hannam, I’m the environment editor at the Sydney Morning Herald.
JM: Thanks for your time today Peter. What would you say has been the biggest challenge you face day to day in your profession?
PH: Well look I suppose if you consider that the fundamental climate science has been established, without much challenge, serious challenge for the last three decades or even longer the issue for somebody covering these kinds of matters for a broad general audience, the challenge, I suppose, is to make it fresh, or sound new or interesting. You know, because not a lot has changed. And so for example the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will put out assessment reports every so many years, five years or thereabouts. And pretty much they’ve been saying the same thing each time. And so someone covering these issues their part of it is to look at what is new that we didn’t know, what do we know better? Perhaps there’s some areas of uncertainty added, but that tends to be not so much the case. But to kind of come back to a general audience and tell it in a way that, I guess engages an audience which, has been flooded with information sometimes deliberately misleading. And it can be that the novelty, I suppose, is part of the challenge.
JM: What would you say or what tips would you give to young aspiring environmental journalists?
PH: For people who are interested in getting into this field, you should adopt, I guess principles that were applied in any other aspect of journalism in that sense. It’s not, it shouldn’t be different. In other words, you know, take a sceptical eye to everything comes, does it hold water, does the logic stand up? You know, what’s missing in any of the reports or comments or sort of statements? Are they credible against what other people have said? Is it new?
JM: And what are some things to consider when conducting an environmental interview?
PH: Ask lots of questions, don’t round things off prematurely. You can often find the most interesting elements, whether it was the nature that the findings were made, or how the research started in the first instance, to what’s coming beyond this published paper. All those kind of questions should I suppose a standard to bring to any interview.
JM: Is that something that helps to inform story ideas for future projects?
PH: Quite often, quite often its what next comes and you’d be surprised how many times almost what was going to be the last sentence or the last question turns out to be either followed up by a lot more questions, or a note to call this or that person back in a near term because something else that they said that they’re working on, which is even more interesting or more important than the original prompt emerges. It doesn’t always happen, it may not even happen in the majority of cases. But some of the most interesting news or other kinds of anecdotes which will colour a story or provide a kind of emblematic or great illustration, or, you know, a great quote perhaps, will come from that further exercise of just basically being open to what’s coming from the other side.
JM: Thanks to Peter for joining me today, and see you next time.