A mentorship program aimed at helping journalists produce stories about the climate is expanding in Latin America.
After what global organization Climate Tracker said were two successful cycles in 2022, it started a third session with eight journalists from the region.
“We decided not only to repeat this program three times this 2023, but also to expand the number of journalists – and countries – to 8, this time reaching Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. This third cycle is just beginning, but I have no doubt that we will have great stories,” Paula Díaz Levi, science and environmental journalist and Latin America editor for Climate Tracker, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).
The Climate Journalism Mentoring Program places a special focus on just energy transition.
As explained by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, this transition is understood as the change to more sustainable energy systems without burdening the most vulnerable populations.
“The energy transition is undoubtedly one of the most pressing transformations that humanity needs to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis,” said a recent report from Climate Tracker.
The organization found the topic “faces a series of difficulties, gaps and challenges in Latin American media.”
As part of its efforts to address the situation, Climate Tracker brought together six journalists in 2022 who published about the oil companies that stain Peru’s ocean, lithium fever in Argentina, wind farms that are established in Indigenous areas of Colombia, and towns in Chile that do not have electricity, among others.
The new cohort that began in May will finish its mentorship cycle in August.
When choosing the participants for the mentoring program, Climate Tracker does not focus on just one characteristic, but rather on the combination of skills and the desire to tell climate stories about Latin America.
Emerging or experienced journalists, as well as freelancers, or professionals from large or small and independent media, can participate in the program.
The important thing, as Díaz Levi explains, is “to always send a good pitch that is brief, inspiring and innovative, and that reflects not only that the applicant took the time to understand the purpose of each project, but also that their interest, dedication and 'fire' is apparent in the proposal.”
One success story was that of Chilean freelance journalist, Isadora Pinochet, who participated in the mentoring program from October 2022 to January 2023. During that time, Pinochet worked on stories about how energy accessibility and a just transition are still lacking from the Chilean State.
“Participating in the mentoring was a super complete experience of learning and professional development. The scholarship includes classes and constant support regarding the themes that we develop in our reports, as well as tools and contacts to guide our work,” Pinochet told LJR.
On the other hand, Venezuelan journalist and co-founder of Mediosur, Francisco Rincón, was chosen for the Climate Tracker mentoring cohort from May to August 2023. Rincón told LJR that the first project he hopes to develop during the program will be about solar energy social initiatives in remote Wayuu communities in the Venezuelan Guajira peninsula.
“I applied to the program because I felt it was a great opportunity. The program also considered Venezuela [for the first time] and our complexities, and also made it possible to focus on the energy transition, an issue with multiple aspects and realities that we urgently need to address in our country, which unfortunately is far behind," Rincón said.
Environmental and climate journalism face obstacles and challenges when it comes to being developed in Latin America and the Caribbean. Among these challenges are the lack of spaces for the publication of stories, few sources of financing, little transparency of public data, as well as a lack of training or specialization of journalists and editors themselves.
“I think that among the main challenges are limited or nonexistent access to public information; outdated and/or absent data; self-censorship; the complexity of accessing areas where armed and militarized groups are present and powerful; access to specialized sources; insecurity, and budget limitations,” Rincón told LJR.
"I think that another of the main challenges we have is to train ourselves to address stories from the basis of human dignity with rigor, diversity, understanding of technicalities, proximity and sensitivity," the Venezuelan journalist added.
Pinochet agrees with the problem of accessing data of interest and the lack of portals or open databases to consult.
“In Chile, data transparency is only regulated in public entities, so private companies (the vast majority) operate in complete anonymity, which makes it very complex to know how many there are, where, who their owners are, how much they emit, etc," the journalist said.
These journalists also insist on the importance of specializing in environmental journalism in order to develop a critical eye in times of drought and climate change.
“I always say that environmental and climate journalism is meaningful work and that today it is more necessary than ever. For a long time it has not been valued or encouraged in many schools of journalism and the media,” Diaz Levi said.
“Even so, this is changing for the better, as more and more media outlets and journalists want to push the environmental and climate stories that need to be told, and there are more and more support networks for this purpose.”