July 6, 2016

Fusion announced a new beat last week through an internal memo to its staff: sharks. Filmmaker and activist Madison Stewart will add her work to Fusion’s “Project Earth,” a multi-platform story devoted to oceans, climate change, extinction and food sustainability.

“There are topics that are important in our society today, and many media outlets dedicate someone specifically to cover them: A correspondent,” said Nicolás Ibargüen, an environmental correspondent for Fusion and Univision. “There are war, political, entertainment, foreign correspondents just to name a few.”

Via email, Poynter spoke with Stewart and Ibargüen about “Project Earth,” what it takes to work the shark beat and what the mainstream media is getting wrong about sharks.

What’s a shark correspondent?! How does one get this job?

Stewart: Nico has been a fan of my short films for some time. He was keen on the idea of starting to release more of them to the world at a higher frequency in order to keep the conversations about sharks going. Now in this new role I get to go to places in the world where things are happening to sharks and put a spotlight on the issues and triumphs surrounding sharks. We’ll be doing that through a number of short films, as well as other formats.

Madison was featured in a Fusion documentary, right? Can either of you tell us about the transition from advocate to correspondent?

Stewart: I was a part of a few Fusion projects in the past, and now we have the chance to build on that work. In fact, I am currently working with Nico on a shark-focused episode for an upcoming TV series. I will keep working on some of my own small projects back in Australia, but I am excited that Nico came up with the idea for a dedicated shark correspondent so we can keep fact-based news about sharks and their important role in our eco-system on people’s minds and in their feeds.

Ibargüen: Madison is passionate, informed, a great storyteller and not afraid to ask the tough questions about issues that matter — attributes of a great correspondent.

Nico, please tell us more about Fusion’s “Project Earth.”

Ibargüen: “Project Earth” is a multi-platform movement that seeks to inspire, educate and communicate through engaging and entertaining content. We look to produce content that people can relate to, that connects environmental issues and topics to people’s lives, activities, and ultimately their future.

Fusion has blended advocacy with reporting before. What will that look like with this project?

Ibargüen: Fusion isn’t afraid to take a stand when it matters. With “Project Earth” we will report and tell stories that acknowledge science, show every possible side of a story and keeping objectivity as much as it is possible — but we also operate from the perspective that our actions matter. What we do impacts our climate. What we do impacts whether mass extinction becomes a reality, degrading every ecosystem on planet Earth.

Madison, how do you see coverage of sharks in mainstream media, and what are you hoping to do differently?

Stewart: The coverage of sharks in mainstream media is disgusting, it’s total misrepresentation, and it’s archaic. Sharks are portrayed as monsters, even in well-funded documentaries that air during Shark Week. No one is focusing on the real monsters, which is the humans killing sharks, or the fear that is making people ignore important facts and become more susceptible to attacks. I’m not in this for fame or ratings. I have my own way of telling a story. I’m a kid with a video camera, and that’s my edge. I want to show people sharks the way I see them, and I’ll do that in the face of the mainstream media narrative.

For both of you, what are people getting wrong about sharks? What have you learned by spending time with them?

Stewart: People are so often wrong about sharks because they have never met them, and they place trust in the media to tell them what to think and feel about creatures they have never met. We are all guilty of it — of judging before understanding — but the issue here is people’s lack of knowledge towards sharks has become their undoing.

In our fear of sharks, industries and government have learned to profit from their death with little opposition from the public, and that is a major issue. Our species has control over what lives and what dies, and that is determined by what we are willing to fight for, and as long as fear is there, people won’t fight for sharks. Sharks are not harmless, but they are not bloodthirsty killing machines. What is critical for people to understand is how important sharks are to the oceans in ways many cannot even begin to comprehend.

Ibargüen: Everything most people know about sharks is not correct. What people know about them have been constructed by movies and media sensationalism. Sharks are not the human-eating monsters they have been portrayed to be, they are neither a harmless animal to be tamed or petted. They are fascinating wild animals that have been on this planet for almost 400 millions years, survived mass extinctions and that are critical for the balance of ocean ecosystems. The irrational fear humans have toward sharks is driving them to extinction and what humans should be really afraid of is of a world without sharks. I hope that Madison and I can help people understand that our actions have consequences and that we need a healthy shark population to continue our way of life.

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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