From Planet Forward to Mongabay: My environmental communications journey has just begun

Aquatic view from a Filipino jungle

Aquatic view from a Filipino jungle. (SparklingGirl/Pixabay)

When I entered college as an international affairs major, the idea of reporting for a news outlet never really crossed my mind. I wanted to study the intersections of international affairs and environmental issues, but I didn’t have an idea of how I would pursue those interests exactly. I could talk about the environment for hours and loved finding ways to get others to care for the planet, but I was not aware of the growing field of climate communication until I attended the Planet Forward Summit my freshman year.

After the summit, Planet Forward hooked me in with its mission, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the art of environmental communication. I produced content for Planet Forward and my university’s sustainability department, and to my surprise, two of my stories were finalists for the 2020 Storyfest competition. To gain more academic training, I enrolled in science reporting with GW’s National Geographic Visiting Professor Lisa Palmer. This was the first reporting class I took at GW, and I gained valuable skills in environmental science communication and writing.

Professor Palmer gave the class valuable insight as an accomplished environmental writer, and she brought in a variety of speakers in the field of science communication. One speaker in particular was a representative of Mongabay, an international news site known for its environmental and conservation reporting. As someone particularly interested in communicating international issues that don’t typically receive mainstream media coverage, I always admired Mongabay’s niche reporting and wanted to gain experience with them one day.

That day came sooner than I had expected. Professor Palmer encouraged me to apply for an internship with Mongabay, and a month later I was offered a role. At first, I was slightly intimidated because I was their only summer intern and had only taken one reporting class prior. Studying international affairs, I didn’t have the traditional training that most journalism students receive during their undergraduate years. I knew I would have to really dive into the role at Mongabay and learn the art of desk reporting as I went.

The skills that Professor Palmer taught me in science reporting helped me tremendously with my stories. For my first three stories, my editor, Jeremy Hance, assigned me to write articles based on recent environmental and conservation research. I covered the discovery of a new crocodile species in New Guinea, the dramatic decline of a keystone peccary species in Mesoamerican forests, and the dangerous impacts of climate change on Canada’s unique glass sponge reefs. One of my most enjoyable tasks was interviewing the scientists themselves, as they were so passionate about their research and gave me useful insight that their research reports did not provide.

My story about the keystone peccary decline, in particular, gained much international traction, as one of the first articles that sounded the alarm on this groundbreaking discovery. In fact, the story made Mongabay’s list of most popular articles published in July, amassing more than 40,000 views online. To this day, it blows my mind that someone like me, with such little reporting background, could write stories that reach such a wide and international audience.

After three research-based articles, my editor decided to shift gears and assign me a more “human-centric” piece. My next story — also my favorite story of the internship — was an interview with an indigenous environmental leader named Levi Sucre Romero from Costa Rica. For the interview, I interviewed Romero about how environmental destruction and COVID-19 have impacted his community, as well as how they are coping with the pandemic and sustainably managing their forests. Levi provided me with so much wisdom and insight from the interview, his most important message being that governments must include indigenous knowledge to better conserve the planet—as well as prevent future pandemics.

As a Filipino-American, I expressed to my editor how I also was interested in Philippine environmental issues and would love to cover a story on the country. Because Mongabay covers the Philippines extensively, he connected me with Mongabay’s Philippines editor to find a story. The editor assigned me an investigative piece about the potential lifting of governmental protections on the pristine Bantayan Island Group, focusing on its harmful effects on the islands’ water supply. Writing this story was particularly fulfilling, as I got the chance to interview Bantayan locals and connect with environmentalists from my home country.

What’s next? My internship comes to a close soon, as I now have one more article left to write (it’s my capstone article, and so I’ll keep this topic a surprise). I am ecstatic to be a Planet Forward Correspondent for the 2020-21 school year, and I also will be a media engagement intern for the International Food Policy Research Institute, writing blogs and designing communications strategy with a focus on sustainable solutions to end global poverty. My work at Mongabay has also gotten me interested in the environmental conflicts that indigenous communities face, and so I will be conducting research with the State Department this year, focusing on researching these conflicts in Southeast Asia.

I am so grateful to Planet Forward, Professor Palmer, and Mongabay for providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My journey in environmental communications has only just begun.
 

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