First of all: I do not see myself as a journalist. Not at all. I am a quite regular guy that owns a (quite popular) website about environmental topics.
Then you probably ask yourself: “Why does this guy write an article about becoming a journalist? Is he joking?”.
I am not joking. I know exactly what it takes.
I know a lot of journalists that solely write about global warming and climate change for various publications. In addition to that, I once had a dream about becoming one. If my English skills were better, this would be a career path that I might want to explore. After interviewing several of my “colleagues”, I know exactly what it takes to make your voice heard in this crowded space.
The five-stage model: How to “create” a journalist within environmental science
To my understanding, there are five important elements to become a “climate change journalist”:
1. Writing skills (education)
2. Environmental studies (education)
3. Understanding of the political climate.
4. Willingness to do extensive research.
5. A platform.
If you have all of these five, you are guaranteed to succeed. However, very few people do have all of them. Let me try to explain.
#1: How good are your language skills?
Before I started this website, I was quite worried that everyone would pick on me for my writing skills. They did not. And the reason why I can get away with a semi-decent English vocabulary and grammar is because I am very honest and personal in my posts. This is one way of “going around” the fact that I`m not a native English speaker.
A climate journalist I talked to told me that “in this field, it`s more important to be knowledgable. As a freelance journalist writing about starving polar bears and air pollution in China, you will never win the Nobel Literature Prize anyway.”
Should you always write in your native language?
This is a dilemma. Back in the days, I had the chance of writing in Norwegian. However, the potential audience would limit itself to 5 million people. As I write in English, nearly “everyone” can access and understand my content. If you aim to become a journalist in a huge international corporation, I would reckon that English is your best chance to get success.
As a foreign person, you should learn to be realistic. Getting a B on your English exam in 10th grade will not qualify you for getting a job in The Guardian.
#2: How will you gain knowledge about the environment?
For me, this was an easy one. Back in the days, I took a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Sustainability. During the last year of my Bachelor’s, about 50 % of my courses were aimed towards sustainable topics. Throughout this year, I learned SO much.
If you are not able to take a university degree, I would urge you to do some serious self-studying. Many people think it`s easy to write articles like “7 ways to reduce your meat consumption” or “Top five environmental issues right now“. But it`s not. It requires several hours of research and writing, which I will get back to later in the article.
What knowledge is crucial to understand these topics to write about them?
Several things. But among the most important ones, I would mention:
– Fully understand why global warming is happening.
– Be able to differentiate the overall global impact of different pollution types (air pollution, plastic pollution, and even sound pollution)f
– Not being politically active. Readers hate that.
– Adapt the skill set of a researcher. Understand how you read scientific articles efficiently. Ask questions about things that have already been established.
– And, maybe most importantly, being able to spot fake news. I can promise you that there are a lot of websites out there with fake data and statistics, which makes it super difficult to differentiate right from wrong.
#3: How much do you understand of the political game?
Before I started this blog, I had no idea how much sustainability is connected with political decisions. Everything about these topics is political. Trust me.
That is not a problem by itself. Almost everything in our society is based upon important political decisions. However, you need to understand the political motivation to understand your audience.
Let me give you a clear example of what I mean.
For example, I wrote an article where I debunked the myth that Al Gore owns a private jet . As soon as I hit the publish button, people were going crazy in the comment section. If they had attacked the content and pointed out factually wrong things, I would be happy. However, it was only comments suggesting that I was a “liberal democrat” that “hates Donald Trump” and a lot of other namecalling.
What can you do as an environmental journalist to prepare yourself?
First, you have to understand the mechanisms of political decisions and climate change. You have to understand why Donald Trump HAS to deny global warming. You will also have to understand why Antifa and other left-winged organizations believe that climate change is a racist (!) political issue. Climate change is no longer a topic that all scientists agree on. It has, unfortunately, developed into a political tool that is being used in a cynical way.
In the end, you just have to accept it. This is not going to change. If anything, the political debate is just going to become even more significant in the years to come.
#4: Are you willing and able to do research for many hours?
Let me write a timeline for what it takes to publish one article on this website:
1 hour keyword & topic research.
If I find a topic that I want to write about, I use Google to find so-called “information holes”. That brings me down to a sub-topic that there isn`t enough well-written information about online.
For instance, I figured out that there was no guide on how to become a climate change journalist. That is why I wrote this post.
1-3 hours research through various sources
To write something useful within these topics, you need reliable sources. Everything you write needs to be backed up by something that you can refer to. That can very often be yourself (your mind and thoughts). However, in 99 % of the articles, you need to refer to external sources.
Very often I tend to use scientific papers. To write THIS specific article, I called up two of my friends that are working full-time as journalists. They provided me with a lot of useful information. Frankly, I could not have written this article without their help.
1-2 hours writing
That`s it. On average, it takes between 3 and 6 hours to finalize an article. For me, this is pure passion. I love educating people about environmental topics. But you should ask yourself: is this something that you are willing to do?
#5: Where do you plan to publish your content?
In general, you have two options:
– Find someone willing to pay for your articles. (newspaper or magazine)
– Create a platform yourself. (like this website)
There are loads of different options out there. If you want to write for other publications, you do not have to necessarily be hired as a full-time journalist. One hot tip is to create an account at Upwork and make it clear that you only want to write about environmental topics. Believe me: there are loads of people who need this type of content.
The other option is to create a blogging platform yourself. There are pros and cons to both options.
Make your own website/blog
– You set the rules. Everything you want published will be published.
– You can, if your website gets really popular, earn some passive income.
– In some cases, it would be possible to get yourself a name in the industry by creating a brand.
– Hosting & domain costs.
– A lot of technical stuff can go wrong (=my old website got hacked and I lost everything I had written)
– It takes A LOT of time to get people to find your blog through Google. Believe me: you will write for a ghost town for about a year before things start to happen.
Write for someone else
– Instant money when the job has been done.
– You will never have to worry about whether or not people actually will read your content.
– You do not have to worry about the technical part of running a website.
– You do not own your content.
– You do not set your own timeline on the projects. People expect you to be done with an article within a certain period of time.
– You might have to write about environmental topics that you are not really interested about.
Is it somehow harder to write about global warming and pollution compared to other topics?
I would say yes. If you write about sports, no one will doubt that what you write is true. If you write about plastic pollution, global warming, melting icecaps or CO2 levels in the atmosphere, many people are (by default) in disagreement with what you write. You will always be questioned.
Not only is there a mob that will always disagree with you. You will always have to make extensive research on everything you write. In the past, I was writing some articles that contained information from unreliable sources. The comment section below the article was filled with hate and bad comments. Not only that. But they were also saying: “Oh, so you have to use fake sources to prove that climate change is real? This proves the opposite!”.
So yes. Being a journalist where you write about environmental topics is much harder compared to other things. You will be seen as a political activist. And you will have to triple-check all the facts.
Is it well paid?
Not at all.
You should not get into journalism if your only goal is to make a lot of money. Certain websites (like treehugger.com) DO earn a lot of money. Their website is 15 (!) years old and got 4 million (!) page views every month. With those numbers, you are going to earn a nice chunk of money.
The ads on my website barely pay enough to cover my hosting + domain fee.