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Dying Soil: France 24 Team Explores an Invisible Crisis

Dying Soil: France 24 Team Explores an Invisible Crisis


So we produce this report as part of our science program or environment series called ‘Down to Earth’ for the French news channel France 24, which is broadcast internationally. And it’s a six-minute weekly report that covers a raft of science and environmental topics and this particular one is called “Dying soil: The invisible crisis at our feet.” And we called it invisible for two reasons, one being that soil, alive or dead, is not something that you can immediately see with a naked eye. And secondly, it’s invisible in that it’s not really spoken about at all. Well, we’d first heard about conservation agriculture through speaking with an NGO and we didn’t really think it was a topic that jumped off the page. We didn’t really think that there was a news hook or anything really interesting to tell. But then we realized that actually conservation agriculture is a response to a problem. That’s the problem of dying soil. And when you dig into that, you see that there’s some really startling numbers around the health and the life of our soil. And that there’s numbers such as the UN saying that there might only be 60 harvests left if we continue at the current rate. And to me this number was really striking, and we thought, well what’s what’s happening? If our soil is dying, then there’s simply a story there. And then we realized that some agribusiness companies were quietly investing in this technique that Mairead was speaking about. And that was it. We thought, well we have a solid story here. Well, first we wanted to have experts explaining what this technique is all about. And we came across this fantastic couple, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, in Burgundy actually. They are experts and also policy influencers. So they could tell us all the science behind it, and also explain in very simple terms, what this conservation agriculture is all about. One of the biggest challenges was of course deciding whether or not to put Nestle in it. We’re always really conscious of big multinationals knocking at our door asking for us to cover their green initiatives. And in this case here Nestle had not come knocking. But we heard about it through an NGO. But the fact that Nestle was not at all publicizing this was what we found interesting, the fact that they weren’t rushing around trying to get media coverage on their trial with conservation agriculture meant that they were probably worried but right now weren’t ready to communicate. And so that’s why we we kind of knocked on their door and said talk to us about it. One of the challenges when you’re doing science stories for a major mainstream news outlet is to really appeal to a very general audience. When a science kind of magazine, they’re talking to people that are already interested in science. So one of the interesting things for us is to really pitch it and put a level of understanding from the audience at a particularly low level just to make it…They might be cooking their dinner while they’re listening to a science story. And the idea is that they’ll still understand what’s happening and some of the details while they’re doing a thousand other things at the same time. I think we really enjoyed making this story about worms about soil, like an appealing story for a big audience. That was, that was a bit of a challenge for us, I must say. But it was really interesting as a, as a journalist. So France 24 is an international news channel based in Paris. And we have the chance to have two channels in one, one in English and one in French. And Mairead works for the English channel, I work for the French channel. And we’ve been working together for 10 years on the same show. So it’s ‘Down to Earth’ in English and it’s ‘Élément Terre’ in French. And so we do everything together, from the finding the stories to reporting on the field, editing. You know, there’s French and English and Arabic and Spanish. But the French and the English are really mirror channels of each other. So when we go out on the field, we go together as a team. I’m the presenter / producer for Marina, and she’s the presenter / producer for me. So we go out on the field and do all the work with a cameraman. But really we are the, you might call it the director, producer, intern, we’re doing everything really for the show when we’re out on the field. And what’s really interesting about it is that I benefit from Mairead’s, let’s say anglo perspective on things. And I hope she benefits from the French or European perspective on things. And so that’s that’s how we make our reports. It’s really a mix of our two brains. People always ask us what language you speak on the field, and the answer is we don’t really know. So we’re actually communicating, and at the end of a sentence, if you ask me what language did you speak Est-ce que j’ai parlé en français ou en anglais? I wouldn’t know. I just know I got my message across and she understood. We have our own made-up language. It’s a mix of French and English and it’s only understandable by us.

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