Becoming a Young Reporter for the Environment

Written by Allison Gacad, Canada

When I was 5 years old, I said that I wanted to be a bird-watcher when I grew up. I didn’t know much about birds, but the mystery behind the career (as well as being an anomaly from my classmates’ answers of ‘teacher’ or ‘doctor’) only fueled my interest in it. My dad found me a pair of binoculars and from that day on, I used them to pore over everything: not just birds, but trees, fish, people, buildings, anything as far as my binoculars could see.

Am I much of a bird watcher today? Not really. But I’ve remained curious about things beyond my immediate sphere of awareness, which is an essential tenet to being a good journalist. In high school, this came to fruition through my school newspaper, where I wrote articles about civil wars on the other side of the globe and interviewed a vegetarian on Thanksgiving, which is traditionally a holiday for turkey-eating in Canada. Yet it was only through Environmental Defence’s annual Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) competition that I shaped my curiosity into a different type of journalism: one that forced critical lens on key issues and posed the question – how can we solve this differently?

After entering this competition and placing nationally, suddenly I became acutely aware that I had the foundational skills and passion to be a budding journalist. I continued to write upon entering university, authoring articles for the Science section of my university’s student newspaper. I traveled throughout the summer and kept a personal blog, sharing the stories of people I had met and histories I had learned of. And when the opportunity arose to represent YRE at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) as a journalist and speaker, I leaped at it with everything I could.

“At COP23, I felt like a real journalist.”

At COP23, I felt like a real journalist. YRE gave me the autonomy to cover the events and stories that of my choosing and I found a niche in food, agriculture, and climate change. I was in packed rooms filled with important people, pushing my way to the front to catch an interview that I would record on my iPhone. I hopped from event to event and closed the day compiling my notes into articles for immediate publication through numerous outlets. It was exhausting, fulfilling, and adrenaline-induced – but the key component was that I didn’t do it alone. I was only able to accomplish it thanks to the company of my fellow YRE attendees, who had their own lens and selected stories to share about a changing climate.

It’s not easy to be a journalist in this day and age. Fake news is rampant and employability in news media is becoming increasingly challenging. But being part of the YRE network means I’ve had access to a global network of young journalists who challenge this difficulty with vigour. Young journalists who believe in researching, writing, filming, and sharing in face of a climate that may convince young people to do otherwise. And in a period of time where media – especially media reporting on the environment – is often depressing, I have this community of young journalists who remind me that it is possible to make an impact through the stories we publish.

The YRE community is a special community of changemakers and it’s a privilege to celebrate its 25 years of existence – I hope to celebrate many more years of fueling the curiosity of budding journalists to come.


About the author:

Allison Gacad

Allison Gacad is a student at the University of British Columbia studying nutrition within the context of food security and environmental sustainability. Beyond the classroom, she has a passion for writing that she hopes to combine with my analytical skills in the Sciences to support a future career in journalism. Her love for our environment stems from exploring Canada’s forests, mountains, and oceans – be it in her hometown, Toronto, or her current city, Vancouver. As a Young Reporter, she is incredibly excited and grateful to bring COP23 to the communities!

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