Journalism in the Far North with Gloria Dickie
Gloria Dickie has written for outlets such as Arctic Deeply, bioGraphic, National Geographic News, Inside Climate and Discover, focusing particularly on Arctic issues including climate change, conservation, land management and biodiversity. Her reporting has led her all over the Arctic to report on the land, animals and people that comprise this often overlooked region. I sat down with Gloria to discuss the stories coming out of the area and talk about how and why she loves reporting on the Far North.
Q: How does where you’re from inform your reporting?
I grew up in Canada, so I often joke that I was typecast into Arctic reporting because editors assumed I was familiar with the cold. Except I grew up in a latitude on par with central Wyoming, so beyond an unfortunate familiarity with the harshness of lake-effect snow, I wasn’t too engaged with Arctic issues. However, a lot of my undergraduate studies had a pretty strong focus on the Canadian Arctic, which gave me a stronger comprehension of the politics of the circumpolar Arctic — not just Alaska — once I moved to the United States.
Q: How did the Arctic become your beat?
I kind of fell into Arctic reporting after a series of northern opportunities presented themselves a few years ago. During my graduate studies in journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder, I was able to accompany the director of the Center for Environmental Journalismto Tromso, Norway, for a conference on Arctic issues. A year later, I received an Arctic journalism fellowship at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I was further immersed in the challenges confronting the region and its people. That opportunity nurtured a strong interest in what I felt was a largely underreported region on the front lines of climate change. After that, I worked as a contributing writer at Arctic Deeply and joined up with the Extreme Ice Survey team in Boulder, which monitors glacier retreat around the world.
Q: What issues are you the most interested in? Why?
There’s so much happening in the Arctic, so it’s hard to choose just a few issues. I think a lot of media coverage has focused on the changes occurring with the sea ice and the ocean, but the terrestrial landscape is also experiencing sweeping change. Wildfires are igniting more frequently and burning vast areas of land; grizzly bears are moving northward, into polar bear habitat; permafrost is thawing and causing massive land slumps in the Interior; and caribou herds are disappearing. All of these changes greatly impact the people who call the Arctic home; every environmental story here is a human story.
Q: What are challenges you’ve encountered reporting on the Arctic?
The lack of resources is a big challenge. It can be really hard to get boots on the grounds in remote areas to accurately and adequately convey what’s happening because it’s so expensive to get there — or to live there. As a freelancer, magazines have less and less money to send you to places that might only be accessible by bush plane. And should you choose to base ourselves out of a remote Arctic locale, you likely won’t be able to afford to live as a freelancer where paychecks aren’t commensurate with cost of living because they’re coming from publishers in the Lower 48. I was really struck by how few freelance reporters lived in the Interior of Alaska when I was there, because there are so many great stories.
(Also, batteries die really quickly in the cold.)
Q: What makes reporting on the Arctic exciting?
For journalists, the Arctic is the frontier of climate change reporting. Mining for stories up there feels like you’re in a new gold rush. While scientists are projecting huge changes to hit the lower latitudes in 20 years or so, this landscape is already in a period of massive upheaval and transformation. The political aspect, too, is interesting. In Alaska, for example, you might have a lot of stereotypical “Republican,” “rural,” “roughneck” characters — but they all believe steadfastly in climate change because they’ve seen it with their own eyes. I love how that adds an extra dimension to stories.
Q: What issues do you think people should be paying more attention to?
The increasing political involvement of near-Arctic nations, like China, in what happens in northern politics and management. China has been trying to carve out a larger foothold in the Arctic, and they very much want to be seen as a stakeholder in the North. In 2013, they were granted observer status by the Arctic Council, after previous denial. China holds a vast interest in Arctic resources, research, and the opening of new shipping routes that can’t be ignored. In 2010, Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhou said: “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it. . . . China must plan an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.”
Q: Where do you think journalism is really succeeding in reporting on the Arctic?
I think the stories that are making it out are typically covered quite well. I think, or hope, that the general public has a good understanding of the science of sea ice loss and glacier retreat, and that warming in the Arctic is happening roughly four times as fast as the rest of the world. The greater concern is what stories aren’t making it out due to, as I mentioned before, a lack of resources and a lack of reporters embedded in this region. I think stories about the impacts of climate change on indigenous populations, and moreover, stories by the indigenous people living in this region, are really what’s missing from the larger narrative in the Arctic. This is where parachute journalism really can’t go far enough.
Check out Gloria’s Arctic Reporting here.