Journalists and communicators from around the Amazon region explored the area’s biodiversity, the causes of deforestation and how to use Google mapping tools to explain it all in an innovative workshop carried out last week by Internews, O Eco and the Articulación Regional Amazónica (ARA).
The issue of deforestation has taken on added urgency following a reported surge in recent months, and the possibility of new forestry legislation in Brazil that would grant amnesty to illegal loggers.
For journalists, covering a trans-boundary region as vast and difficult to travel around as the Amazon is an immense challenge, hence the effort to adapt new information tools to improve reporting. “With the threats to the Amazon now coming from both local and global causes, including climate change, reporting on the Amazon is more important than ever,” explained Gustavo Faleiros, the editor of O Eco Amazonia, a regional environmental news agency. “But by using new online geographic tools that we’ve been working to adapt, we can cover the whole region and describe what’s going on in a way that’s easier for the public and policy-makers to understand.”
With support from Google Earth Outreach, 20 journalists and communicators from Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela learned how to augment their coverage of rainforest issues with geospatial information and freely available geographic tools. Convening first in Quito and then at an eco-lodge on Ecuador’s Napo River, two Google Earth trainers illustrated ways to design and enhance online maps and other visualization tools to better explain the latest news and research data.
“It was a completely new kind of training for us,” said Rodrigo Vargas, a journalist from Mato Grosso state who writes for the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. “The chance to get hands-on instruction in using this technology, and to do so in the Amazon jungle no less, was really helpful and will definitely allow us to boost our coverage of environmental issues.”
The workshop included reporting trips into the Amazon rainforest to learn about the region’s biodiversity, why it’s important and how it is being threatened. Regional leaders in the fields of media, science and the environment – including former Ecuadorian president Rosalia Arteaga, now director of the Fundación Natura Regional, and Carlos Souza of Imazon – spoke to the journalists about the current situation in the Amazon.
“The Amazon serves not just the planet’s lungs, but also the air conditioning – it is one of the great regulators of the Earth’s climate,” said Arteaga. “But it is fragile, and there is still a lot we don’t know about it. There is no exact data on its borders, its human population or of course its biodiversity.”
As part of a broader effort to overcome the technical, political and spatial challenges of covering the region, the workshop participants created a new Amazon Communicators Network (Comunicadores para la Amazonia), a collaboration between the participants to inform the public about issues vital to the Amazonian region, and resolved to launch a unique interactive mapping platform called InfoAmazonia that will display news, information and geographic data.
“Internews and O Eco have been working for years to try and build this platform, so we are very excited at the prospect of joining with our partners to finally make it a reality,” said James Fahn, director of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. “While there are certainly other efforts in various parts of the world to use online, interactive maps to display information, this may be the first attempt to pair the technology with a regional newsgathering network such as O Eco’s.”
The Pan-Amazon workshop was convened by the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, in partnership with O Eco, a Brazil-based non-profit news service and network of Brazilian journalists dedicated to environmental reporting, and ARA, a regional grouping dedicated to combating deforestation. Google’s support for this workshop is an extension of their work to place satellite imagery of the Amazon into the public domain, to help visualize the destruction of Amazon rainforests. Funding for the course was provided with support from Fundo Vale, the Avina Foundation and the Compton Foundation.