Despite disruptive changes in the media industry, which have made it more difficult to place stories and develop relationships with journalists, top environmental newsmakers continue to target the biggest, longest-lived news outlets, according to a recent survey.

Commissioned by the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and carried out by Harvard Business School’s Community Partners, the survey found that “most organizations interviewed have a person dedicated to working with new media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, yet social media budgets are generally less than 10% of total budget and augment rather than displace traditional media expenditures.”

SEJ’s executive director, Beth Parke, said she was surprised by the continued focus on traditional media and that “new media” is still a secondary pursuit for newsmakers. Otherwise, the survey corroborated many of her “hunches” about the state of the field.

“Results of the study confirmed a key assumption for SEJ and all SEJ members: Credible reporting on environmental issues has great intrinsic value. I am constantly looking for indicators about that. It’s great to have this study to provide some objective evidence,” Parke wrote in an e-mail. “I will be using it in my quest to gather and encourage new resources for SEJ and the environmental journalism community at large.”

The Community Partners team contacted forty-two influential newsmakers, based on a list drafted by SEJ. Twenty-one responded, including two government agencies, six academic institutions, six nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), six corporations (or industry associations), and one foundation that funds environmental projects. Despite reaffirming the value that these groups continue to see in professional journalism, however, some of the survey’s findings were discouraging. For example:

Many survey responders point to enormous changes in traditional media: deteriorating economics of print and broadcast news, consolidations of news organizations, cutbacks in full time paid journalist positions, fewer journalists dedicated to specialist areas such as environmental news, and generally a reduced ability and willingness of news organizations to provide in-depth research and reporting.


Traditionally, building long term personal relationships with journalists has been a key factor for success in media relations. With the turmoil in traditional media—layoffs, reassignment of people, reorganizations, fewer specialists covering environmental issues—media relations departments find it increasingly difficult to know who to contact, particularly in news outlets beyond the highest profile organizations (such as regional media players). One interviewee stated that it was increasingly important to reach out to assignment editors vs. journalists.

When asked who they think are the most important and influential news organizations, survey respondents cited thirty-four different media outlets. The New York Times got eleven mentions and The Washington Post got seven. NPR, The Associated Press, and National Geographic each got four. USA Today, Nature, and the Los Angeles Times each got three. Politico, Greenwire, NBC, “Time/Newsweek/Fast Company etc.,” Treehugger, and Popular Science (Popular Mechanics) each got two. The rest, which included legacy brands like The Wall Street Journal and CNN as well as newcomers like Grist and ClimateWire, each got one mention. [Update: In addition to Greenwire’s two mentions, its sister site, ClimateWire, and its parent, Energy & Environment Publishing (referred to in the survey as Energy & Environment News) each got one mention, which would elevate the ranking of E&E if grouped together.]

The outlets newsmakers get their news from are somewhat different than the ones they target, with Google Alerts, The New York Times, The Washington Post, SEJ’s newslist, NPR, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly, and Twitter searches receiving the most mentions. [Update: Greenwire and “ENE News” (most likely another reference to Energy & Environment Publishing) each got one mention, which, taken collectively, would again elevate E&E’s ranking.]

When asked about the most influential environmental journalists, newsmakers cited thirty-nine different names, of which only nine came up more than once. The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin got five mentions. The New York Times’s John Broder and Andy Revkin (who writes the Dot Earth blog) each got three mentions. And coming in with two mentions each were NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren and Christopher Joyce, Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn, the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Mark Schleifstein, The New York Times’s Matt Wald and Kate Galbraith, and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sandy Bauer.

According to the survey, most newsmakers feel they know how to reach the top-tier news outlets and get their news out, relying mostly on traditional methods such as media e-mail and phone lists, in addition to wire services and their own websites. However, “many of the organizations are finding that they must do far more legwork in the creating stories while simultaneously having to educate the reporters [more of whom are younger and less experienced] on the basics of the subject matter.”

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.