The Dangers of Telling the Truth

World Press Freedom Day highlights the risks faced by journalists and their sources around the world

(Photo: UNESCO)

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In many parts of the world, telling the truth has become a life-threatening job. Tomorrow, May 3, marks World Press Freedom Day, which, this year, recognizes the danger facing environmental reporters. Hosted by UNESCO, the day offers an opportunity to reflect on the risks journalists everywhere take to gather the news and show solidarity with sources who risk their livelihoods and lives to ensure the world knows the truth.

This week, student journalists across the US, like the staff at Columbia University’s WKCR radio station, led the way with their coverage of pro-Palestinian campus protests and university and law enforcement efforts to shut them down. Their tenacity has been inspiring, drawing audiences worldwide.

It’s a dangerous time to be a journalist. Data from the Committee to Protect Journalists show that 99 media workers were killed last year, and 21 journalists have already died in 2024. The majority of these deaths have been Palestinian journalists killed during Israeli attacks on Gaza. On Friday, UNESCO will release new data about attacks in the past year, some fatal, on journalists covering climate and the environment.

Reporters don’t have to be in an active war zone to find themselves in danger. Environmental reporting has emerged in recent years as the second most perilous beat, as the Guardian has previously reported. Corrupt polluters and environmental criminals around the world have shown that they are willing to kill in order to hide the truth of their activities.

Defending press freedom isn’t only about advocating for the safety of journalists. Reporters are nothing without their sources, and sources, especially those working to protect the environment, are statistically much more at risk than the journalists they work with. Figures collected by Global Witness show that at least 1,910 environmental activists were killed between 2012 and 2022, with Indigenous activists and land defenders disproportionately represented.

June will also mark the second anniversary of the death of Dom Phillips, a Guardian contributor, and Bruno Pereira, an activist and expert who was traveling with Phillips in western Brazil. Phillips was reporting on Indigenous patrol groups whom Pereira had organized to protect the region from illegal fishing and mining.

As the murders of Phillips and Pereira show, human rights abuses, environmental crimes, and threats to the press go hand-in-hand. Showing support across locations, beats, and professions is what’s needed to protect all defenders of the truth: environmental activists informing journalists, Palestinians reporting live from a war zone, and student journalists, who have been reporting so bravely from campuses.

From Us

CCNow webinar recap. Watch the recording and see key takeaways from our recent webinar on covering the US green energy transition and its implications for the 2024 US presidential election. Take me there.

Local reporting. Join us for a Talking Show webinar, “Telling the Climate Story Locally,” on Tuesday, May 7, at 12 pm US Eastern Time. Kaitlyn McGrath, Meteorologist for WUSA9 (Washington, DC); Helina Selemon, Science Reporter for New York Amsterdam News’ the Blacklight investigative unit; and Kale Williams, Environment Reporter for KGW TV News (Portland, Ore.) will join CBS News and Stations’ National Environmental Correspondent David Schechter. RSVP.

Noteworthy Stories

Big Oil hearing. The fossil fuel industry has evolved their strategy from outright climate denial to deception and disinformation, according to testimony at a Senate Budget Committee hearing. “Company officials will admit the terrifying reality of their business model behind closed doors but say something entirely different, false, and soothing to the public,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland. By Olivia Rosane at Common Dreams…

  • The hearing stemmed from a three-year investigation by the House Oversight Committee into several fossil fuel companies. See their resulting report as well as subpoenaed documents here.
  • Drilled is digging into the latest findings, including “what fossil fuel companies are getting for their university research donations.”

The end of coal? The Biden administration issued new regulations aimed at drastically reducing carbon emissions from power plants. Existing coal and new gas-fired power plants must slash their emissions 90% by 2032, if they plan to operate beyond 2039. The move could lead some plants to shutter. By Jeff Brady at NPR…

Trump on climate. How will US climate policy be affected if Donald Trump is elected president in 2024? Five major areas where a Trump administration would likely reverse policy are: coal and gas power plants, auto emissions standards, the Inflation Reduction Act, oil and gas drilling, and global climate negotiations. By Lisa Friedman at The New York Times…

Plastic rules. Hong Kong has banned many single-use plastics in order to reduce non-biodegradable plastics that end up in landfills. Here’s a visual guide to the new rules, which took effect on Earth Day, by Kaliz Lee and Davies Christian Surya from the South China Morning Post…

Weighing in. The Los Angeles Times editorial board has called for faster climate action as average global temperatures continue to rise. “One of the most important things Americans can do right now is to exercise their political power at the ballot box, by demanding that leaders at all levels of government deliver serious climate action or stay out of office.” Read it at the Los Angeles Times…

Trauma-informed Climate Coverage

The Climate Disaster Project was given the 2023 National Newspaper Awards Special Recognition Citation for its trauma-informed coverage of climate change. The judges said that the project “was a model of cooperation that can be replicated in other newsrooms.”

Their process for interviewing survivors includes:

  • Seeking consent: Ask for permission to use testimony and provide information on how interviews will be used.
  • Co-creating the interview: Conduct a pre-interview and review questions, allowing the survivor to edit and omit questions.
  • Reviewing: Survivors read the transcript and article, correcting information as needed and removing material they’re not comfortable sharing.


Science communicator Hank Green recently recommended two climate podcasts:

  • Shift Key,” hosted by Heatmap News Executive Editor Robinson Meyer and Princeton University Professor and energy systems expert Jesse Jenkins, who “make sense of the biggest shift of our time.”
  • Volts,” hosted by journalist David Roberts, on clean energy and politics.

We’re inspired to create a list of the best climate podcasts for reporters. Have a climate podcast you love? Let us know by emailing us: karin [at] coveringclimatenow [dot] org.

Via Social

In March, Texas Tribune reporter Alejandra Martinez and her reporting partner Wendy Selene Pérez uncovered that Latino communities living near one of the world’s largest petrochemical hubs were unaware of the pollution in the air they breathe. That’s because air monitoring data in Texas is “difficult for the average resident to understand and usually only in English.”

Recognizing the lack of air quality information, Martinez and Selene Pérez did something unusual for reporters. They returned to the community, providing printed flyers with resources about how to stay safe during a chemical emergency and more.

Martinez shared a thread on X (formerly Twitter) detailing their efforts and positive community response.


African biodiversity. #MineAlert-Africa, an initiative by the Environmental Investigative Forum, has a new tool that documents “biodiversity threats posed by mining licences across the African continent.”

Extreme precipitation. Climate Central has published new information on “extreme precipitation in a warming climate,” including why climate change is “supercharging the water cycle,” areas in the US most vulnerable to extreme precipitation, and more.

Reporting tips. Investigative Reporters & Editors has a list of six reporting tips for environmental journalists. Tip four: “Play the (FOIA) lottery.”


Resilience. Canary Media is holding a webinar, “Building Climate-Resilient Communities: Frontline Experiences and Real-World Solutions,” on May 6. RSVP.

Crash course. SciLine is holding a course, “Science essentials for local reporters,” on May 6. RSVP.

Artificial Intelligence. The Pulitzer Center’s new “AI Spotlight Series” aims to help journalists report on AI. Its first course, “Introduction to AI,” will be offered on May 15 and May 23.

Mental health. The Uproot Project & Climate Psychology Alliance are holding a webinar, “Mental Health for Environmental Journalists.” Space is limited. May 15. RSVP.

Native Public Media summit. Native Public Media’s Native Broadcast Summit will be held in Phoenix, Ariz. May 20-21. Learn more. 

Methane. Through SciLine, Dr. Amy Townsend-Small, professor of environmental science at the University of Cincinnati, will be available to take questions on methane emissions on May 30. Request an interview. 

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. CBS News is hiring a meteorologist (NYC). The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing is recruiting an executive director (remote). Inside Climate News is looking for a senior editor (remote). ProPublica is recruiting a senior editor for its Local Reporting Network.

Awards. Applications are open for the 2024 Society of Environmental Journalists Awards for Reporting on the Environment. Apply by June 17.