Newsletter: What I learned about local news from covering sustainable development

“Local news” and “sustainable development” are not two phrases I hear often in the same sentence. But, since the end of last year, when I began covering Canada’s progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for The Discourse, I’ve learned the two are closely connected.

I’ve spoken to dozens of people across the country, ranging from established experts to university students concerned about sustainability. I heard again and again that storytelling and journalism have an important role to play. People need local news to understand challenges in their own community, so they can act on them and hold their elected representatives to account for responding to them.

Local news “really does help a community identify where they need to go with [sustainability issues],” says Danielle Wendehorst, a nursing student from Yellowknife who I met at a summit on the Sustainable Development Goals hosted by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative in April. She told me about how action on homelessness in Yellowknife drew public support after a report released in 2017 estimated the city had 1,500 homeless people. Previously, locals didn’t have information on how big the issue was, she says.

Danielle Wendehorst (left) in a discussion at the Generation SDG Summit hosted by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative. Delegates discussed how to mobilize communities across Canada to take action on sustainable development.

But local news coverage is shrinking across Canada and, with it, Canadians’ access to basic information about sustainability issues in our own communities. Meanwhile, Canada is on track to meet just four of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  We’re lagging behind on issues like poverty, access to clean drinking water and planning environmentally friendly urban transport.

This is why I’m proud of The Discourse’s commitment to experimenting with new models for local news, such as through the local news fellowship, and its commitment to community engagement. I’m also grateful for the opportunities I had to engage with communities across Canada to produce my investigation into the plastic piling up on Canada’s shores and a toolkit to improve coverage of the refugee crisis based on workshops with two dozen refugees from around the world.

This is my last newsletter for The Discourse, at least for now, so I’d like to give a special thanks to each and every person who contributed to my work and helped me learn about sustainability challenges, ranging from beachcombers turning garbage into art to scientists who helped me understand how plastic pollution is affecting our environment.

The Discourse is winding down for the summer to spend some time learning from what we’ve done over the past year. We’ll be quieter in August, but back with a big announcement in time for Labour Day. You can follow along by signing up for our weekly newsletter and keep in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter.[end]

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