He lived there for five years, teaching English to college students. But he wanted more.
He moved back to the US and “taught English for a couple more years and I decided, I wanted to create change,” he told me.
This was around the same time (2018) when climate change was a hot topic in the US and around the world which would impact future generations. He then decided to change his career and become a journalist reporting on climate change.
“There were reports that the world had just twenty to thirty years to act on climate change, and, just thinking about my students and their future, I wanted to change my career and do something about climate change.”
Leveraging his writing skills, Jariel studied a Master’s degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability with the School for International Training Graduate Institute based in Vermont, USA. He has studied in Iceland and Zanzibar, Tanzania and now is developing his reporting skills with a fellowship at Vox.
Writing for a cause
But Jariel was not simply picking a low-lying fruit in the form of a trending issue for the sake of quick gain. He wanted to be a voice for specific groups of people.
He chose to focus on minority and marginalized communities and how they are affected by climate change. These include populations in the global south who he says are most impacted by climate change but contribute the least to the pollution driving the crisis.
“You can believe in the future for people and for the planet,” he said.
Having joined Vox just a few months ago, Jariel already has many articles to his name and I asked which of these stories has been most fulfilling to file.
“It’s to me, my most interesting story because it really, is a good example of what I want to do. I want to uplift the voices of people who are marginalized around the world,” he explains.
He also added that his November 2020 article on disaster relief not getting to the most vulnerable populations also ranks as a favourite.
Based on the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – World Disasters Report 2020, Jariel said the authors of the report were very supportive in helping him understand the issues and explain them better in the story.
The support of the authors was especially important because of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained that working remotely and not being able to connect physically with local communities in the frontline of climate adversities, makes it difficult to bring stories to life.
Lessons from the pandemic
Writing a story from a report or while working remotely may be a challenge to many journalists, he shared his approach. “I focus on three things; what’s happening, why is it happening, and why does it matter? And then I spend some time trying to fill in the rest of the details in the story.”
From the challenges of reporting in these times of the pandemic, there have also been lessons. For Jariel, the biggest of them is the need to build a pool of sources, both experts and ordinary folk, who can come through to give a quote from different locations that may not be accessible in times like these.
He also advised that with minimal field visits due to travel restrictions, it is even more important for journalists to verify the information they receive from different sources.
“Double-checking to make sure that your sources are correct and sufficient is critical. Even with limited resources, you have to do what you can do to make sure that what you’re putting out there is accurate,” he said.
Get feedback, good or bad
Being a writer for Vox in the first year of practising journalism is no mean feat. We asked Jariel to share tips on how young journalists can improve their writing skills to match the demands of big media organizations.
“Working with other journalists is how you grow, but as much as possible get other people to read your work and read other people’s work. Don’t be afraid of bad feedback, that can be tough, but it is also helpful,” he said.
For journalists writing on climate change and disaster risk reduction he recommended resources and individuals whose work are outstanding. See below.
Climate Nexus: Works with media and media and community organizations to tell the stories of the people impacted by climate change and those driving the energy transition.
Climate Outreach: Works to help ordinary people understand climate change and what it means to their lives.
Somini Sengupta: International climate reporter for The New York Times
Mustafa Santiago Ali: Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization
Jason Hickel: Anthropologist at the London School of Economics