Heads up for rookie environmental writers

Heads up for rookie environmental writers
The window period for submission of story pitches has closed - July 15 2021

Keen to write a few environmental wrongs? Do you have a conservation story that needs to be told, but are not sure how to go about it?

Well, the good news is Roving Reporters in partnership with the Earth Journalism Network (EJN) and other environmental NGOs has launched a Conservation Watch writing project.

Even better news, is that you need not have previous writing experience – and the project covers both the ocean and terrestrial environments.

So, if you have a story to tell – or know people working on positive interventions to address a specific biodiversity crisis  – send us a story pitch.  If we like your story idea, you’ll get expert guidance from seasoned mentors in researching and writing your story for publication by our media partners. So get cracking then! Download the Roving Reporters story pitch form here, complete it and email it to matthewhattinghdbn@gmail.com cc to fredk@rovingreporters.co.za.


Cash prizes of R1,500, plus a contribution toward research and fieldwork costs incurred, shall be awarded to writers of the first ten stories that get published. Novice writers who show distinctive promise will also get the opportunity to enroll for further training as correspondents for Roving Reporters.

“This is an ideal opportunity for conservation minded youth and aspiring environmental writers to bring to public attention habitat destruction, the loss of green infrastructure, pollution of rivers and water sources and related loss of biodiversity –  a critical concern to leading scientists, conservation managers, government agencies and environmental NGOs,” said African Conservation Trust CEO, Francois du Toit.

Work done in protecting endangered species and empowering people living in rural communities close to conservation areas will also be a priority.

That’s because our world needs to become a better place for nature and for people.

The lives of of people living near or within conservation areas, such as the far northern section of iSimangaliso World Heritage site on the boundary with Mozambique are among topics budding Conservation Watch correspondents are invited to delve into. These photos of coffin bearers preparing for a funeral in eNkovukeni were taken in 2006. Has life changed for the better for local residents? Have they benefitted from much needed conservation of the area? Photos: Fred Kockott


Story pitches on marine conservation including the expansion of South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs),  gas and oil exploration projects, impacts of demersal trawling, how ocean noise wreaks havoc on ocean life and latest findings of deep sea research will also be considered.

The broader biodiversity reporting project, supported by the EJN, spans South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia  and Zimbabwe and aims to improve media coverage in areas where trusted sources of information are under threat. It intends to unearth new writing talent and ultimately help conservationists, NGOS, scientists, legal practitioners, law enforcers, decision-makers, government agencies, other stakeholders share information and deliberate on effective solutions to problems.

Enter now

While there is no deadline for entries, early bird entries get preference.

So if you believe you’ve got what it takes, and are not afraid of hard work and embrace constructive criticism – sometimes a lot of it – send your story pitch to matthewhattinghdbn@gmail.com cc to fredk@rovingreporters.co.za.

Your story pitch should outline what the story is about and tell us:

  • why the story needs to be told;
  • who the story is about or who is affected by it;
  • where and when it took place – or is happening;
  • how it all developed into a story of public interest.

Be sure to include your full name, age, address, contact details and any relevant biographical details, such as your education level and work experience.

But I am absolute rookie! I have never written before. Is this for me? Can I enter?

“Absolutely! We are especially keen to find and support emerging writers in indigenous communities, including young women conservationists,” said Roving Reporters managing editor, Matthew Hattingh.

Ok, but I still don’t know where to begin…

Never fear.


Here’s a simple guide that should help get you started.

Perhaps the first thing that stumps rookie writers is what to write about. The truth is that there are conservation and environmental stories everywhere. You just need to know how to spot them,

If you are short of ideas a good start would be to:

  • Look around in your immediate neighbourhood, town village or its surrounds for potential stories,
  • Scan social media for potential leads,
  • Ask people you know, including lecturers, friends and acquaintances. And pay attention to passing conversations – what other people are talking about might appeal to a wider audience, and
  • Consider whether your work or career exposes you to an interesting or concerning environmental matter deserving public attention

You might also be aware of a great environmental initiative – or a colourful character or group of people – doing some amazing conservation work that very few people know about. These initiatives and people involved in them can be turned into compelling stories that help shape the way we think about the world around us.\

The Five W’s and H

With a germ of a story in mind you should identify its five Ws and the H…

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Why?
  • Where?
  • How?

Now, you need a plan to guide you. There are many ways to do this, but the next step might be to draw a mind map. It would identify a narrative (the path the story follows) and include the basic questions the story should seek to answer. It would also include more detailed questions that the basic questions suggest.

Story path

The mind map should help with clarity and direction. From here, a story synopsis begins to form. You may be able to identify any protagonist(s) through whose eyes your story can unfold.  Some preliminary research is needed too, to get a grasp on the subject matter so you can ask the people you plan to interview the right kinds of questions.

This vital work should form the basis of your story pitch.

Engage with experts

If you are one of the lucky 10 selected by the Conservation Watch judges, the next step would be to seek out the view of locals involved, and the experts in the particular field you are covering. It’s important that you get a range of opinions to ensure your story is balanced and fair. Where an individual or organisation, perhaps a government agency or company, is mentioned or cited – particularly where it’s in an unfavourable light – the individuals or organisations must be given the opportunity to give their side of the story.

Fact checking

Then more hard work follows as you begin with the actual writing. Be prepared for your drafts to be rejected and for much reworking along the way, until finally the story is ready. Here, you the writer will be expected by Roving Reporters to go the extra mile, to attend to any queries of revisions we request.

Spit ‘n polish

The aim is to craft a fresh original story that’s compelling to read, factually sound and easy to follow for readers who are unfamiliar with your subject matter. We also expect Conservation Watch writers to assist us with obtaining images to illustrate their stories and to supply meaningful captions.

To present a good story idea, you simply need to follow these guidelines ,

For further advice on submitting a good story pitch read:  What’s your story?


Roving Reporters offers on-the-job experience and trains aspiring environmental writers and conservation-minded youth. It subscribes to high ethical standards in reporting for a growing number of media outlets. Since 2011, its training has helped set in motion the journalism careers of almost 30 young writers, most of whom landed their first by-lines in working on Roving Reporters assignments. Its model is to help students, youth and environmental scientists to tell their own stories and to share them on media platforms that they would normally stand no chance of reaching. Nomfundo Xolo (pictured above) took part in several Roving Reporters assignments while studying for her journalism diploma at the Durban University of Technology from 2011 – 2013. She delivered excellent publication results and has been working full-time in the media ever since.  Photo: Fred Kockott


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