Winners: SEJ 10th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment
The Society of Environmental Journalists is proud to present the winners of the 2010-2011 Awards for Reporting on the Environment. SEJ’s journalism contest is the world’s largest and most comprehensive awards for journalism on environmental topics.
Eighteen entries in six categories were selected, including one honorable mention. Reporters, editors and journalism educators who served as contest judges pored over the 207 entries to choose the finalists representing the best environmental reporting in print and on television, radio and the Internet.
SEJ honored this year’s winners Sat., Oct. 22, 2011, at a gala ceremony at the Setai Hotel in South Beach, Miami, during SEJ’s 21st annual conference. First-place winners received $500 and a trophy. Second-place winners received $200 and a certificate, and $100 and a certificate went to each third-place winner.
SEJ's 2011 Awards for Reporting on the Environment are...
Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Large Market
Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Small Market
Outstanding Beat Reporting, Large Market
Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market
Outstanding Single Story
Rachel Carson Environment Book Award
“The True Story Behind the Oil Spill” by Abrahm Lustgarten, Journalist, ProPublica, with independent producers Martin Smith, Marcela Gaviria and Ryan Knutson for PBS Frontline.
From the judges: The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was the story of the year, generating a tremendous amount of outstanding environmental journalism, most notably this multi-platform tour de force of investigative and explanatory reporting. Lustgarten's ProPublica stories, and the accompanying 53-minute Frontline documentary produced by Smith and his team at Rain Media, put BP and the U.S. government under the microscope. The image that emerged is both chilling and edifying. With the coming push for more oil and gas exploration in tougher to reach places, their powerful journalism could not be more prescient or important. In a category overflowing with extraordinary journalism, the work of Lustgarten and Smith stood out for its depth, clarity and fearlessness – the same qualities that distinguished the work of this category’s namesake, the late Kevin Carmody.
- Furious Growth and Cost Cuts Led To BP Accidents Past and Present
- Years of Internal BP Probes Warned That Neglect Could Lead to Accidents
- EPA Officials Weigh Sanctions Against BP’s U.S. Operations
- Chemicals Meant To Break Up BP Oil Spill Present New Environmental Concerns
- The Spill
- Blast at BP Texas Refinery in ‘05 Foreshadowed Gulf Disaster
- New Documents Show BP Made Little Progress on Alaska Safety Issues From 2001 to 2007
- BP Texas Refinery Had Huge Toxic Release Just Before Gulf Blowout
“The Pierced Heart of Madagascar” by freelancer Robert Draper, with photographer Pascal Maitre, for National Geographic.
From the judges: In a masterful investigative feature, Draper explains why the world's fourth largest island – one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth – is under devastating attack on multiple fronts. Aided by the stunning photos of Pascal Maitre, Draper spins an adventure tale of immersion journalism featuring smug timber barons, endangered lemurs, rapacious mining companies, corrupt government officials and, above all, the impoverished residents of this resource-rich land who are plundering their own forests – and their own future – to satisfy overseas demand for rosewood, especially from China. Draper is incisive, economical and empathetic in telling this very human story of poverty and greed – and yes, even hope – on a fast-changing island of astonishing beauty.
“Fueling Fears” by Jim Morris, Senior Reporter; Chris Hamby, Reporter; and Emma Schwartz, Reporter, Center for Public Integrity, and M.B. Pell, Staff Writer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in partnership with ABC News, working with reporter Matthew Mosk and correspondent Brian Ross.
From the judges: So many worthy investigative reporting projects are published as post mortems: What went wrong? How could this disaster have been prevented? A Center for Public Integrity team led by Jim Morris, later joined by ABC News, took a different approach, focusing on a disaster that has not happened yet, but easily could: a major leak of hydrofluoric acid from a petroleum refinery. A second story expanded the focus to other refinery risks, some of which have already killed or maimed. Using industry documents, government records and shoe-leather reporting, the CPI team assembled a damning indictment of the refining industry. Combining personal stories (including on video) with powerful data, the CPI team convincingly makes the case that workers and the general public are facing huge, avoidable risks.
- Use of Toxic Acid Puts Millions at Risk
- Regulatory Flaws, Repeated Violations Put Oil Refinery Workers at Risk
“Chinese Drywall: Why one of the biggest defective product investigations in U.S. history has left homeowners struggling for help” by Joaquin Sapien, Reporter, ProPublica; Aaron Kessler, Reporter, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; and Jeff Larson, News Applications Developer, ProPublica.
From the judges: Sapien and Kessler confronted not only a Chinese "wall" but German industrialists, Lowe's supposedly home-improvement stores, and even Habitat for Humanity to compile an interactive online database of contaminated homes to show that the feds had grossly understated a dangerous drywall problem seriously impacting at least two states: Florida and Louisiana. Homeowners, whose health was at stake and homes unliveable, were the winners after Sapien and Kessler's dedicated reporting. As ProPublica's editor-in-chief Paul Steiger stated in the cover letter for this entry:
"By collecting thousands of documents that the government never bothered to link and spending hundreds of hours with victims and experts, Kessler and Sapien showed that businesses conspired to hide the truth from consumers, demonstrated that the system designed to protect consumers from tainted foreign products is a mess and built the most authoritative list of tainted homes."
In a very tough, competitive field this year, Sapien and Kessler's work stood out as exemplary of the impact of solid environment reporting in smaller markets.
- Tainted Chinese Drywall Concerns Went Unreported for Two Years
- Is Chinese Drywall Making Habitat for Humanity’s Houses Uninhabitable?
- Proposed Lowe’s Drywall Settlement Offers Small Payouts to Victims, Big Fees for Attorneys
- China Plays Tug-of-War with U.S. Inspectors Over Drywall
- Federal Probe of Chinese Drywall Falls Short
“Deep Impact: Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale” by Laura Legere, Staff Writer, Scranton Times-Tribune.
From the judges: In the much examined field of fracking, Laura Legere went beyond the clichés of fiery water and looked at the lack of regulations, inspections by the state environmental regulators and dug deep into the state’s poor record-keeping. She also humanized and investigated a story that big media, such as the New York Times, reported on, but Legere’s reporting went further yet and she brought the issues home.
“Accidental Wilderness” by David Wolman, Freelancer, High Country News.
From the judges: David Wolman's elegy to nature's endless resourcefulness doesn't sugarcoat the horrors humans have visited on the planet. Yet this piece, combining an attention to detail and fine writing, offers something rare in this genre: hope for the planet's future.
From the judges: An impressive devotion of resources to cover a major story. The journalists wove intriguing narratives into their stories, which reflected both a depth of knowledge and aggressive reporting. In the best journalistic tradition, they did not take ‘no’ from authorities, but pursued the stories and the human face of the disaster. A very nimble response to the story of the year, with smarts to weave together existing, related work that greatly broadens our understanding of the full threat posed by the BP spill. The Mother Jones team gave us the basic science we need to know, along with vivid reporting on the emotions of people who live in the Louisiana communities affected by the BP spill – all of it combined to give the public a comprehensive picture of one of the worst environmental disasters of our times.
- "It's BP's Oil"
- Depression, Abuse, Suicide: Fishermen's Wives Face Post-Spill Trauma
- The BP Cover-Up
- "The Rig's on Fire! I Told You This Was Gonna Happen!"
- BP's Bad Breakup: How Toxic Is Corexit?
“Chicago Beat Reporting” by Michael Hawthorne, Environment Reporter, Chicago Tribune.
From the judges: Tenacious coverage of local environmental impacts. His stories were surprising in their originality, relevant to his readers, aggressive in rooting out the truth in the face of denials and roadblocks from those on whom he reported. Hawthorne’s reporting was clear, concise, alarming in a helpful way, not at all alarmist. This is exactly how a tough beat reporter should work.
- Too Toxic To Dump, But Fine for Your Driveway
- Green Energy Credits for Burning Tires?
- Clean Coal Dream a Costly Nightmare
- Feds to Illinois: Clean up the River
- Dirty Truth Next Door
“Environmental Reports” by Jeb Sharp, Senior Producer; Asma Khalid, Freelance Reporter/Producer; Marina Giovannelli, Metcalf Environmental Reporting Fellow; Alex Gallafent, Reporter; and Ari Daniel Shapiro, Independent Producer; PRI’s The World.
From the judges: A good look at how some of the new technologies emerging from the challenges of climate change affect those who are not driving SUVs and flipping on the air conditioning when it gets hot. Five stories by five different reporters gave us a wonderfully varied look at environmental issues around the world. Their sparkling series was a reminder that this is a global issue impacting the very basics of life — for good or for bad — in other parts of the world. This was very good reporting from a variety of often neglected sites, and with excellence in editing for consistency.
- Bringing Solar Power to Tanzania
- Renewables Find Niche in Pakistan
- Haiti Quake Opportunity To Restore Rural Ecology?
- Engineering the Climate: Who Gets To Decide?
- Protecting Beijing’s Raptors
“Reporting on the BP Oil Spill” by David Hammer, Staff Writer, The Times-Picayune.
From the judges: Like a lot of professional journalists who end up covering stories of historic proportion, David Hammer of the New Orleans Times-Picayune was in the right place at the right time when BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, 2010: right on the Gulf coast. What separated his coverage from that of others was that he knocked it out of the park, time and again. He doggedly pursued the essential question, “How in the world could this happen?” and gave us surprising and sometimes heartbreaking answers.
Hammer immersed himself in details of the business, government, science, technology and human behavior that define so many environmental issues. His stories were thoroughly documented, sourced and explained. He revealed how BP and others cut corners that led to the disaster, how White House officials manipulated experts when it issued a drilling moratorium, and how federal and independent experts probably overestimated how much oil had escaped. Nobody escaped Hammer’s scrutiny.
Hammer and his newspaper did not fear or favor the oil industry, the government or environmental groups. His stories are an outstanding example of intelligent, energetic and skillful beat reporting in the public interest.
- Safety Fluid Was Removed Before Oil Rig Exploded in Gulf, by David Hammer and Dan Shea
- Costly, Time-Consuming Test of Cement Linings in Deepwater Horizon Rig Was Omitted, Spokesman Says, by David Hammer
- 5 Key Human Errors, Colossal Mechanical Failure Led To Fatal Gulf Oil Rig Blowout, by David Hammer
- Experts Seek To Clarify Their Views on Drilling Moratorium, by David Hammer
- Videos Appear To Back BP's Contention That Oil Flow Increased Over Time, by David Hammer
“Environmental Reporting in Montreal” by Michelle Lalonde, Environment Reporter, Montreal Gazette.
From the judges: Reporting on exploitative industrial practices is often a chronic story — and a tiresome and thankless one at that. We chose Michelle Lalonde as a winner because of her clear gift as an engaging storyteller and her skill as a thorough reporter as she walked readers through the impacts of new mining proposals on a small provincial town and its inhabitants. Her writing engages the reader at a personal level without trivializing important issues, while she explains the regional, national and even international implications of an environmental story without losing touch with the issue itself. Her writing informs and engages the reader, no easy task when reporting complex and nuanced stories on deadline.
Lalonde produced intelligent reporting that enlists the reader to both understand the story and to grasp the underlying regulatory conflicts and environmental consequences of regulations and government decisions. This approach is at the heart of watchdog journalism, requiring no small amount of courage to document the hypocrisy of both the provincial and national Canadian governments. Finally, for those whose French is minimal, she explained French euphemisms and double entendres in English. Bien sur!
- Mine Plan Gets Tranquil Town’s Back Up
- Mercier’s Hidden Poison
- Fun, Practical Urban Planning Brought to You by ... Children
- Asbestos: From ‘Miracle Fibre’to Dirty Word
- Shut Up and Eat Your Dinner
“Science Skeptics, Corporate Lobbyists and the Assault on Maine’s Environment” by Susan Sharon, Deputy News Director, Maine Public Broadcasting.
From the judges: Politicians often fudge and prevaricate, and it is the journalist’s obligation to determine the difference between truth, “truthiness,” and downright lies. In a series of reports, Susan P. Sharon took the governor’s own words and followed them where they led: as often as not, to misinformation, disinformation, and falsehood. The reports showed the governor’s disdain and/or misunderstanding of how science works, demonstrated his proclivity for inventing justification for his proposals, and unveiled the stark connection between the governor’s efforts to roll back environmental regulation and the interests of regulated industry.
Speaking truth to power is an essential part of great journalism, and Susan P. Sharon did that forcefully – out loud and on the air.
- LePage: Environmental Groups Have Too Much Power
- Paul LePage Campaigns Against Climate Change Science But As Mayor He Supported It
- Out-of-State Companies Behind LePage Push for Regulatory Reform
- Environmentalists Question Source of LePage Reforms
- Maine Governor's Bisphenol-A Remark Draws Rebukes
“In Middle East, Coalition Aims to Ease Tension Over Water Resources” by Fred de Sam Lazaro, Correspondent; Nicole See, Producer/Editor; Tom Adair, Videographer; and Patti Parson, Managing Producer; PBS Newshour.
From the judges: Excellent and well-told story — in words and images — of water as yet another obstacle to peace. Israel's progress constructing desalinization plants and the symbolic water immersion by a multi-ethnic coalition of Mideast mayors provided timely frame for reporter's examination of developing water crisis.
“Oklahoma’s Dirty Secret” by Jennifer Loren, Investigative Reporter, and Michael Woods, Photojournalist, KOTV/KWTV/Newson6.com/News9.com.
From the judges: Vivid portrait of local health concerns over air and water contamination flowing from mountainous, poorly regulated, fly ash waste disposal sites. Solid local TV story placed the local problem in a national context through coverage of the EPA regulatory hearing on possible reclassification of fly ash as a hazardous substance. The Broadcast package is supported by an online presentation of longer interviews.
“Renegade Refiner” by Jim Morris, Senior Reporter, Center for Public Integrity; and M. B. Pell, Staff Writer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
From the judges: Damning examination of BP's “flagrant” safety violations at a pair of refineries in Texas and Ohio. Inspection records obtained through FOIAs provide the foundation for CPI's report. This timely story's release coincided with national interest in BP’s corporate safety culture in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty by Craig Allen Welch
William Morrow (New York, 2010)
From the judges: Shell Games is a wonderful combination of solid reporting, good historical research and fine writing. In it, Seattle Times environment reporter Craig Welch tackles the issue of geoduck clam poaching and smuggling. It is an issue that could easily be reported as a local story, but Welch expands it into an international one, making clear to readers who live outside the Pacific Northwest why the issue matters. The original investigative reporting on the black market for these aquatic creatures makes it a terrific work of journalism; the strong narrative as the author follows undercover agents keeps the reader engaged from start to finish.
Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed by Judy Pasternak
Free Press (New York, 2010)
From the judges: Yellow Dirt is an outgrowth from Judy Pasternak’s series of investigative articles for the Los Angeles Times dating back to 2006. Set in the four corners region of the southwest, Yellow Dirt is a well-researched account of how Navajo people were exploited for uranium by industry and neglectful government agencies. Painting a chilling picture of the health and environmental consequences, the dramatic storytelling follows this long-hidden tragedy in an immensely personal way. A compelling read, difficult to put down, and devastating in its message.
Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them by Laurence Packer
HarperCollins (Toronto, 2010)
From the judges: From the very first sting, York University melittologist Laurence Packer brings to life his passion for bee research. A surprisingly fun and accessible book, Keeping the Bees takes readers on an eye-opening journey of bee biology while also exploring the potential of these often-maligned insects as environmental indicators. It is a must-read for environmentalists, farmers and gardeners, but more than that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
William Allen, Assistant Professor of Science Journalism, University of Missouri
Seth Borenstein, Science Writer, The Associated Press
Alex Chadwick, National Public Radio
John Daley, Reporter, KSL-TV
Jackleen de La Harpe, Freelance Writer
Dan Fagin, Associate Professor of Journalism, New York University; Director, NYU Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program
Dan Gillmor, Professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University
Daniel Glick, Co-Founder, The Story Group, former Newsweek Correspondent
Pat Jeflyn, Videojournalist, CBC-TV Windsor
Betsy Marston, Editor, Writers on the Range, High Country News
Mark Neuzil, Professor, Department of Communication and Journalism, University of St. Thomas
Brian O’Donoghue, Assistant Professor and Chair, Department of Journalism, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Cristine Russell, Freelance Writer & President, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
Craig Saunders, Freelance Editor and Writer
John Schidlovsky, Director, International Reporting Project (IRP)
Susan P. Sharon, Deputy News Director, Maine Public Broadcasting Network
Douglas Struck, Associate Chair, Journalism Department, Emerson College, former Washington Post International Environment Writer
JoAnn Myer Valenti, Emerita Professor
2011 Awards Committee
Beth Daley, Boston Globe
Douglas Fischer, DailyClimate.org
Emilia Askari, Independent Journalist
Perry Beeman, The Des Moines Register
Jeff Burnside, WTVJ-Miami
Saul Chernos, Independent Journalist
Jennifer Weeks, Independent Journalist
Director of SEJ Awards
Chris Rigel, Rigel Consulting