Telum Talks To… Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times

Telum Talks To… Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times

How would you describe the current state of environmental journalism and what are the biggest storylines environmental journalists will be following in 2021?
Awareness of environmental issues is definitely growing, and so is the appetite for well-researched stories. Climate change is definitely a major issue. It’s no longer just about the environment, it’s intertwined with everything else in society and economy. 
What are some of the biggest challenges when covering environment and science issues in Singapore and the Asia Pacific?
In terms of climate science, there is not a lot of data specific to the tropics so there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding how this region will experience the impacts of climate change, such as the rising of sea levels. A lot of global models may not apply here. In terms of audience appetite, it is an interesting challenge to constantly find new ways of telling stories about technical issues or writing about them in a compelling manner. Using social media tools and brainstorming ideas with like-minded colleagues skilled at artwork, infographics, photography, and videos help!
What do you consider when deciding which stories to write about?
I ask myself a lot of questions first, including things like: Why should people care about this? How can I make this interesting? Why is this important? Why am I writing about it now?
In your opinion, how does journalism or the media contribute to environmental journalism?
Raising awareness about the wonders of our planet. If people don’t know what we have, they won’t know what we stand to lose. Highlighting issues that need more attention, like how close to home the illegal wildlife trade actually is; or how environmental management measures taken by individual development projects are not that useful unless a landscape approach is taken, especially considering Singapore’s fragmented forests.  

Can you share tips for aspiring environment journalists? 
Wisdom begins with wonder. I am constantly in awe of our planet and the beings that live in it, and that drives a lot of my reporting. Other tips: Develop thick skin. Go out! Avoid armchair journalism. Do your homework before going out for assignments. It helps you build institutional knowledge that will help you identify stories.

You are also an Advisory Committee Member at Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, tell us more about the role you play.
The Pulitzer Center funds journalists to cover stories about tropical rainforests under the Rainforest Journalism Fund. Tropical forests are key ecosystems that help to sustain mankind, are intimately linked to local community life, and also help sequester a lot of carbon from the atmosphere. There are three main tropical rainforest regions: the Amazon, Congo Basin and Southeast Asia. Each region has its own advisory committee, and I sit on the panel for Southeast Asia. There are a few of us on the panel from different countries in SEA and our role is to look at the proposals that come in from journalists in the region and assess them in terms of relevance to the fund’s objectives, feasibility etc. Journalists reading this with a story idea on forest issues in Southeast Asia are welcome to apply. Details here.

As an environment journalist, what is one thing that we, as individuals in society, can do to help the environment?
Recognise the scale of the problem we are facing. Climate change is not something far off into the future, we are already feeling the impacts now.

Understanding that individual action may not amount to much, but that there is power in the collective. 

Relook at your priorities in life and see if they can be reorganised: fast fashion, big cars / houses, not taking a bag / cup for grocery or coffee runs because of “inconvenience”. 

Vote with your dollar. Put your money where your mouth is. 
If you could interview anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Anyone with a passion for what they do. It’s easy to tell when your interviewee genuinely loves what he / she does, and it’s inspirational. 

Audrey Tan hosts Green Pulse podcast and she tweets @audreytrp

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