It should be unsurprising, then, that “even though most of the organizations have only begun to using social media tools within the last year or so and think of it as complementing their traditional effort, there is general agreement that social media - or parts of it - will continue to increase in importance in future years.”

Already, there is some evidence of what could be called a trickle-up effect, with various digital media sources feeding stories and information to traditional outlets. Blogs, for instance, “received a mixed review.” According to the survey:

It is much easier to get a story in the blogs than in the written press. One media director indicated that her strategy for placing news stories in the NY Times was to place the story initially in the NY Times environmental blog and then hope that the print version of the paper would later pick it up.

Another option, of course, is to sidestep the press entirely. Although social media aren’t yet a major part of their communications strategies, 76 percent of newsmakers said they use Facebook and Twitter. “One advocacy group stated that Twitter (and to a lesser extent, other social media tools) was invaluable because ‘it allowed them, with their advocacy message, to bypass the filters of traditional news sources while they can completely control their message and tell their own story,’” according to the survey report.

SEJ’s Parke intimated that the fact that newsmakers are still so focused on major new outlets or otherwise trying to get around the press is somewhat dismaying.

“It made me think how so many newsmakers, even given that they may be nationally focused, are missing out on the wide range of smaller news outlets serving important audiences of different descriptions with environmental news,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It wasn’t clear to me that those surveyed realized how many outlets for good environmental journalism actually have developed over the last two decades and how much amazing work is being done by freelancers who may be hard for them to find. I don’t think they have a handle on how to work effectively on a regional basis or in the new media landscape, other than through ‘new media’ that they themselves control.”

But the point of the survey was to identify where SEJ can help build bridges (at its annual conference or through its press release distribution service, for instance) between newsmakers and journalists, Parke added, and she expects that its findings will be very helpful in that regard.

SEJ board member Heather King, who oversaw the survey for the society, said that the takeaway message for individual journalists was threefold. “(1) It’s important to be facile with new media, whether or not you are in a new media organization; (2) make yourself the ‘go to’ person in your region/marketplace; (3) develop a plan for branding yourself - area of expertise, website, social media, etc.,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Both Parke and King cautioned that survey, which Community Partners did on a pro bono basis (and which is available online only to SEJ members), was very limited in scope and that more research is needed (related to regional and local newsmakers and to funders, for instance). Nonetheless, it’s a good start.

“It may not be easy for SEJ or individual journalists or news organizations to monetize the intrinsic value of quality environmental reporting, and be rewarded for excellence in providing or supporting it,” Parke wrote in an e-mail, “but credible environmental journalism and lots of it will continue to be important to a great many constituencies. This “beat” is not going away. If anything it grows more important to more people and more communities every day. That’s not confirmed by this study, but it is implied.”

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