Journalism has never been an easy profession to break into, but for Rojo Oceane Randrianantoandro, a single mother of two living in one of Madagascar's
poorest regions, it seemed to be an impossible dream. By day, she taught grammar school in the southwestern port town of Toliara. On weekends, she wrote news articles in an Internet cafe, sending them to newspapers in hopes of landing a reporting job. Persistent and talented, Oceane succeeded, and by 2004 she was the Toliara correspondent for Les Nouvelles
, a daily in the capital city of Antananarivo.
Oceane was lucky: her editors welcomed not only story ideas about politics and local disasters, but her ideas on the environment as well. For many journalists, especially in the developing world, stories on ecological issues dont rank high among news priorities.
"It's hard for environmental stories to compete with stories about war, corruption, or disaster," explains Haroldo Castro, vice president for Global Awareness at CI. "What was really needed was a way to recognize the significance of environmental stories and the vision of journalists who wrote about them."
Riding through the Philippines on a bus in 1996, Castro raised the issue with two colleagues heading to a conference of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ). As they bounced along, the trio came up with an idea: create an annual competition that honors the year's best published environmental articles.
Three years later, the Biodiversity Reporting Award (BDRA) was launched through a partnership of CI's Communications Department, IFEJ, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and later, Spain's Fundacin Biodiversidad.
The award is designed to boost public awareness of conservation issues in poor countries by raising the quality and quantity of local environmental reporting. In seven years, the BDRA has grown in scope and popularity, with nine member countries and more than 1,300 articles by some 700 journalists available at its Web site.
Backed by its team of respected international partners and judged by distinguished experts from participating countries, the BDRA prize and its prestige has spurred journalists and their publications to produce hard-hitting, scrupulously researched stories about the most critical environmental issues. After an awards ceremony in their countries, the first-prize winners are invited to a major environmental or journalism conference, where they receive their award and meet colleagues from other nations.
Oceane's article for Les Nouvelles, exposing the rampant overharvesting of Madagascar's sea cucumbers by international fleets, won 2005's top BDRA prize for Malagasy entries, ranking her as one of the 10 best environmental journalists from among the 212 that competed that year. She also took her first trip abroad, flying to an international environmental conference in Sarawak, on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo.
For Oceane, mingling with peers from other countries and watching orang-utans swing through Sarawak's rainforest was a quantum leap for her personally and professionally. That leap was reinforced when she returned home and was welcomed by Madagascar's news community. Since then, Oceane has become recognized as a talented reporter, often seeking out CI's field communicator and 2004 BDRA first-prize winner Hajasoa Raoeliarivelo, and other conservation groups, for updates on environmental issues.
For Castro, this is one success story among many, and the realization of his vision for the BDRA as a vital conservation tool.
"In coming decades, climate change will impact the Earth more and more, especially in developing countries like Madagascar," he says. "It's imperative for people here to understand that protecting natural ecosystems also protects their own lives and futures. When local journalists work with us to spread that message, it brings success so much closer."
The 2006 BDRA winners will be announced this fall, including submissions from both print and television journalists.