Writing for Change. Environmental Journalism Then and Now

Writing for Change. Environmental Journalism Then and Now

Dr. Simone M. Müller (Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich), Jun.-Prof. Dr. Evi Zemanek (German Studies, University of Freiburg)
Center for Advanced Studies, LMU München
Vom - Bis
28.01.2019 - 29.01.2019
Dr. Simone M. Müller

Without any doubt, the news media have played and still play an important part in arousing public concern in environmental quality. Since the late nineteenth century and in particular since the 1970s, environmental journalists and environmentalists practicing journalism report on industrial pollution, conservation issues, environmental disasters and uncover the effects of climate change on everyday life. The example of Greenpeace, in turn, illustrates how environmental activism’s strategies, their success even, often depends on garnering widespread news attention. The rise of environmental awareness and the environmental beat in news reporting go hand in hand.

The intricate relationship between both, the creation of environmental awareness and environmental journalism, however, is problematic. From the start, professionals have struggled with the challenge of how to tell stories about highly complex science and policy debates which unfold slowly in meetings and journals. The long-term effects of pollution or environmental disasters on humans and the environment are not always easy to pin down. Sometimes, expert opinions seem to stand against each other. Moreover, how to make readers (and editors) care about planetary changes that may not affect them, but the next generation, people half-way around the globe or non-human beings? Today’s post-truth and fake-news debates, e.g. centering on the reality of climate change, as well as a more general crisis of print media nourish existing difficulties. Despite the institutionalization of the environmental beat in news reporting in many industrialized countries in the 1970s, environmental journalism has long been on the decline. Even today, with increasingly pressing environmental issues, green journalism has remained “a delicate plant already on the list of endangered species,” according to Torsten Schäfer, head of the project “Climate Stories.”

In academia, despite the enormous rise of environmental humanities and activist-researchers all around the world, environmental journalism and its history are two separate categories. While environmental history ascribes an important role to “the media” and environmentalists who practice journalism we know little about environmental journalists en masse, their influences and their news strategies. Media and journalism studies, in turn, have primarily focused on the relationship between the news media and environmentalism in specific locations and times or have explored the relationship between the media and specific issues, such as nuclear power, biotechnology or climate change.

Environmental historians, media and journalism scholars as well as environmental journalists could greatly benefit from crossing-over. The temporal setting of most environmental issues is such that a long-term frame of thinking is necessary. Additionally, successful media campaigns from the past could teach strategies for tomorrow. Learning how “the media” and environmental journalism works, in turn, helps historians develop a more nuanced and critical understanding of “the press” and its acclaimed powers for environmental change and might also help them pitch their research successfully to an audience beyond the ivory tower.

This interdisciplinary workshop Writing for Change wants to create a platform of exchange for historians, media and journalism scholars as well as practitioners to discuss historic as well as current trends, strategies, dilemmas (and solutions) in environmental reporting.

We invite historical as well as current perspectives on the changing relationship between journalism and the creation of public environmental awareness. Papers could investigate, for instance, the careers of individual environmental journalists and science writers, the policies of environmental agenda setting, or environmental news forms, technology and outlets in their change over time.

The workshop is hosted by the Ludwig Maximilian University’s Center for Advanced Studies. Its excellent facilities and the exclusive setting will help create the perfect working atmosphere to think through some of these questions together.

Accommodation costs are covered and there will be a subsidy to travel costs.

Please send an abstract of 750 words max. together with your C.V. in ONE PDF DOCUMENT until August 17 to:



Simone Müller

Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society
Leopoldstrasse 11a, 80802 München