Networks in developing countries generally have fewer activities, but those they offer may be even more crucial given that access to information is often weaker and journalistic support resources scarcer. There is virtual unanimity as to the main challenge facing these networks: a lack of funds. Benedict Tembo, who runs the Zambian chapter of the African Network of Environmental Journalists, echoes the complaints of many network leaders and members when he says, “Resources allowing, ANEJ-Zambia should be conducting more training programs and field trips because we have received overwhelming response from media personnel intending to join us.”
“[With] the historic changes we have witnessed and are still witnessing in the news industry, the needs have only grown among journalists and would-be journalists,” says Parke. “Money is always, of course, in short supply.”
For some reason, donors generally seem less willing to support these journalism associations than they do environmental advocacy groups. Perhaps potential funders just don’t know about them. Or perhaps they don’t feel they would be able to exercise enough influence over the associations, which tend to protect their members’ freedom to report objectively regardless of a funder’s mission or priorities. Most journalism associations prefer funding from non-profit foundations or bilateral aid donors, and some such as SEJ have strict rules about or against accepting money from government, businesses or environmental advocacy groups. Others do end up taking funds from these sources, even while trying to keep an editorial firewall that allows their members to report as they see fit. It’s a tricky balancing act that leads to fierce internal debates.
Another unfortunate consequence of spotty funding is ineffective management, which plagues many of environmental journalism networks. “We have never been able to secure money for the most basic thing that an organization needs, which is administration. So we have never had a paid director or fundraiser,” says Talli Naumann, a founding member of the Mexican Network of Environmental Journalists (Rempa, to use its Spanish acronym).
Many journalists are just that—journalists—who have no management experience and lack the time needed to run complex association. “The will to develop organizational strategy and the availability to carry it through are not the priorities for many,” Naumann says. “Environmental journalists are usually over committed to begin with, because the demands of the industry require they perform other duties to earn a living No [leadership] campaigns have been conducted [at Rempa], and no slates of candidates have ever formed, for that matter. The elections have been last-minute nominations with secret balloting at the same moment candidates are proposed.”
As with any organization, overzealous managers sometimes hoard control of “their turf” and are reluctant to relinquish authority, or simply lack the necessary leadership skills. In Burma, a network of environmental journalists fell apart largely due to a failure of communication among its leadership. A portion of the membership felt the manager did not provide enough information or about planned activities. In fairness, this lack of consultation may have partly due to the harsh political environment in the country, which fosters secrecy and mistrust, leading people to fear being about their activities even if they are doing nothing wrong.
That said, there are more success stories than failures, concerning individual leaders and organizations alike. Naumann points out that Rempa has overcome its managerial deficiencies to achieve many successful activities and functions by “building a sense of camaraderie and solidarity. This has been particularly important as a base of support for those of us, like myself, who are among the many having lost jobs in the mainstream media due to cutbacks and having ventured forth with independent projects.”