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Anna Mateu and the treatment of environmental journalism in the valencian Country

  • Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit
  • February 27th, 2019

Anna Mateu has been awarded the 2017-2018 Outstanding PhD Award for her thesis “Inicis i desenvolupament del periodisme ambiental al País Valencià: La conscienciació sobre qüestions ambientals a través dels gèneres d’opinió”. The research has been directed by Martí Domínguez, director of the magazine Mètode and professor of the Department of Theory of Languages and Communication Sciences, of the Faculty of Philology. The thesis focuses on the beginnings of environmental journalism in our territory, especially in the decade from 1970 to 1980.

Ana Mateu has a degree in Journalism from the University of Valencia and a PhD in communication at the same institution since 2016.

Since 2006, Mateu has been the editor-in-chief of Mètode magazine, the scientific dissemination magazine of the University of Valencia, a work activity she combines with the dissemination through social media, journalism and research in science communication.

What difficulties have you encountered while undertaking the thesis?

The main difficulty I have encountered has been combining work with research. When I started my doctorate studies, I was not sure how to guide my professional career, and I did not want to disassociate myself from journalism. Therefore, during these years I have combined the doctorate with my work as editor of Mètode. In part I think it has been an enriching experience, because having personal experience gave me another perspective when facing an investigation on communication. But also in the opposite direction, since to be investigating helps you to also improve aspects of your work as a journalist. But when you do not dedicate yourself full time to the thesis, you usually have to lengthen the research period and give up many things. Especially in the personal sphere.

What continuity does this research have?

My thesis has focused on the study of the beginnings of environmental journalism in the Valencian Country, during the seventies and eighties, and I have established a typology of the discourses on the environment present in the press in order to analyse its evolution.

This analysis has been made from the genres of opinion, as this has allowed me to analyse the editorial position of newspapers, but also the discourse of other social actors such as politicians, ecologists, scientists, etc. I believe that the thesis is a first step for future research on the evolution of discourse on the environment from different perspectives and can also allow us to establish which are the most effective discourses when dealing with environmental communication. At a time when one of the most important challenges we face is climate change –because of the direct impact it will have on our lives– environmental communication is essential.

What do you think your research contributes to the scientific community as a whole and to society? And to you?

In the seventies we started with zero environmental awareness. This has fortunately changed, and the appearance of the first environmental movements in the Valencian Country, coinciding also with the last years of the Franco regime, led to the first citizen and media mobilization in favour of the protection of a natural space. I am referring to the campaign “El Saler per al poble”, against the projected urbanisation in this natural space, one of the first citizen mobilizations in Spain and Europe that was accompanied by an important media campaign by the newspaper Las Provincias. In spite of the importance of this episode, up to now no investigations have been carried out in this regard. In the thesis I have made an analysis from the point of view of the media treatment and the campaign promoted by the newspaper and by its deputy director María Consuelo Reyna.

From this episode, I analyse the evolution of the discourse through other key moments such as the campaign to turn the Turia channel into a green space, the reaction to the creation of the Parc de l’Albufera in 1896, compared to the Coastal Law or on the Cofrentes nuclear power plant.

One of the main conclusions of the thesis is that there is a lack of environmental awareness in our society, evident in environmental campaigns of great impact as is the case of El Saler. At that time, although we found the first conservationist claims and the scientific arguments are present, the main argument against the urbanization of El Saler is the citizen’s right to enjoy a natural space, as a space for leisure and enjoyment. A similar case occurred in the campaign “El llit és nostre i el volem verd”. The importance of the neighbourhood movement and the involvement of the anti-Franco opposition endowed this movement with a character of opposition to the regime and of reclaiming the natural space as a public space.

During the eighties and nineties, the environment is incorporated into the political agenda and speeches about the environment revolve mainly around politics or economics, since frequently the first legislations that purported to serve to protect natural spaces, such as the first natural parks or the Coastal Law itself, are understood as a brake on progress and economic development.

Personally, it has been a very enriching process. Doing a doctoral thesis can be hard at some moments, and there are also others of “crisis” where you really seriously consider what you are doing and if that will take you to some destination. But now, looking back, I really think it has been a period of my life where I have really enjoyed learning things and at the end of this process, I have been able to contribute my bit to the study of communication in the Valencian Country.

What applicability can your work have?

In the social sciences, it is difficult to speak of applicability in the same sense as in other areas such as the natural sciences or medicine. However, I believe that it does have a social application, as I have already mentioned, to improve knowledge and thus establish a more effective communication regarding environmental issues.

Does getting a Doctorate facilitate employability?

Actually, I believe it does not in the field of journalism.

Would you recommend starting doctoral studies? What advice would you give to a person who wants to get a PhD?

I think that doing PhD studies has to be a very personal decision and that it has to have a lot to do with personal concerns. That is, if you have this concern for research, for knowledge, for discovery, then go ahead. I think it is an enriching experience on many levels, but without this concern or vocation, it will be very difficult to carry out a job that requires a lot of effort and dedication.

Have you actively participated in outreach activities and scientific communication? How important do you think these activities are?

For my work as a journalist in a science magazine, I am convinced that the dissemination of science is key. In Mètode we try to empower the scientific community to communicate and disseminate their research, and we consider it crucial to build bridges from science and university to society. The research does not have to end with the scientific article, or in this case, in the doctoral thesis. In this sense, whenever I have had the oportunity to participate in round tables or conferences on the environment in which to talk about my research, or in publications or other types of dissemination collaborations, I have done so. The doctoral thesis, but also research in general, must have an impact not only in the scientific community, but also in society.

For example, the doctoral thesis and other research articles are available in the repository of the University of Valencia, in Roderic. Thus they are accessible to all the people who are interested in reading them. I also use scientific networks such as Researchgate, because I think they are very useful to follow the steps of other researchers in my area and share work with them. But these are professional networks rather than dissemination ones. For scientific dissemination I use Twitter (@anna_mateu), both in my work as a Mètode journalist, and to share my work and comment on other science and environment topics that I find interesting. And there is also a growing tendency to use other social media such as Instagram, to which we will have to pay attention as dissemination tools.