In Indonesia prior to 2006, there had only been an informal e-mail list maintained by Harry Surjadi, a former journalist for the Kompasnewspaper. That year, forty-five Indonesian journalists gathered at a national conference in Sumatra and created the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ), modeling it directly after SEJ in the U.S. by making it a dues-paying membership organization, with a governing board and by-laws. Given their low wages, it’s not easy asking Indonesian journalists to pay dues—nominal as they may be—and volunteer their time. But it seems to have worked. The organization is thriving, has a full slate of activities, and about 180 members. That it has received steady funding from the Packard Foundation in recent years has certainly helped. But to its credit, SIEJ also pulled off a seamless and seemingly peaceable change in leadership, something of a rarity among such organizations.
In the interests of full disclosure, the Earth Journalism Network (EJN) helped launch SIEJ as a formal organization (along with Rempa in Mexico and the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists) by providing modest funds and technical support. Indeed, one of EJN’s objectives is to work with and nurture such networks, largely because of the benefits described above.
But, as Parke notes about SEJ (and as I feel about EJN), “there’s something else, on a different level entirely, that I think of as the biggest benefit of being a member of this organization. SEJ has become a network of networks — many groups of people that together define the field of environmental journalism. Membership connects you to the whole field in a very special way.”
By the nature of their profession, environmental journalists often feel isolated. Many work freelance, and even those who are full-time staff for media organizations work solo on their beat. Intangible as it may seem, one of the biggest benefits of these associations is simply becoming part of a group, of realizing you’re not alone in your chosen career.