Winners: SEJ 12th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment
The Society of Environmental Journalists is proud to present the winners of the 2012-2013 Awards for Reporting on the Environment. SEJ’s journalism contest is the world’s largest and most comprehensive awards for journalism on environmental topics.
Twenty-one entries in seven categories have been selected. Reporters, editors and journalism educators who served as contest judges pored over 234 entries to choose the finalists representing the best environmental reporting in print and on television, radio and the Internet.
SEJ honors this year’s winners Wed. Oct. 2, 2013 at a gala ceremony at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in conjunction with SEJ's 23rd Annual Conference. First-place winners receive $500 and a trophy. Second- and third-place winners and honorable mentions receive a certificate.
SEJ's 2013 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 Feature Story
Rachel Carson Environment Book Award
Outstanding Environmental Photojournalism
“Playing With Fire” by Michael Hawthorne, Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe, Reporters, Chicago Tribune
From the judges: “Playing with Fire” is an example of watchdog journalism at its best: catching lies, exposing secrets, challenging assumptions. While many reporters have written about flame retardants before, this series commanded attention by pointing to deceitful industry practices discovered by the Tribune team after sifting through industry documents, county medical records, scientific studies and tax reports. Changes in public policy quickly emerged as a response to this terrific series.
- "Playing with Fire"
- "Big Tobacco’s Clout"
- "‘Flat-out Deceptive’"
- "Toxic Roulette"
- "Chemicals in the Crib"
- "Chemical Companies, Big Tobacco and the Toxic Products in Your Home"
- "Results: The "Playing With Fire" Series Prompted Swift Action from Lawmakers, Regulators and Manufacturers."
“Ghost Factories” by Alison Young and Peter Eisler, Reporters, USA Today
From the judges: These tenacious reporters did a stunning amount of legwork, examining communities across the country contaminated with old industrial lead. They sifted through more than a century of historic records and maps, filed 140 open-records requests and trained themselves to do their own soil testing of more than 1,000 samples. The result was a spectacular series of stories, video and graphics that provided an important public service by prompting some cleanups of sites ignored by regulators.
- "Long-gone Lead Factories Leave Poisons in Nearby Yards"
- "Some Neighborhoods Dangerously Contaminated by Lead Fallout"
- "An Invisible Danger in Our Yards"
- "EPA Probes Health Risks Left by Old Lead Factory Sites"
- "Old Lead Factories May Stick Taxpayers with Cleanup Costs"
- Ghost Factories: Explore the Sites
- "Watchdog To Probe EPA Handling of Lead Smelter Risks"
- "EPA Finds Poisonous Lead at Playground by Old Smelter"
- "EPA Plans Cleanup of Lead Danger in Chicago"
- "N.J. City Reaches Cleanup Agreement with Smelter Company"
- "EPA To Clean N.J. Yards, Others Not Tested"
- "Senators Call for EPA Inquiry into Lead Factory Sites"
- "EPA, CDC Officials Testify to Senate on Child Lead Poisoning"
- "Cleveland Health Officials Offer Free Lead-screening Tests"
- "USA Today's Crusade Against Lead Poisoning," Knight Science Journalism Tracker, March 11, 2013.
“Water Grabbers: A Global Rush on Freshwater” by Brian Clark Howard, Editor and Producer, and Sandra Postel, Freshwater Fellow, National Geographic; Fred Pearce, Freelance Journalist; Tasha Eichenseher, Environment Producer and Freelance Journalist; Chris Combs and Adrian Coakley, Photo Editors.
From the judges: “Water Grabbers” was impressive reporting with scary, worldwide implications. The places this team wrote about are places where wars are likely to break out because of battles over water. This package offered stunning photography, great graphics and provocative writing, and left the audience with a chilling understanding of this newly discovered manipulation of a precious resource.
- "Mali’s Lush Wetlands Drained by Foreign Agribusiness"
- "Saudi Arabia Stakes a Claim on the Nile"
- "Grabbing Water From Future Generations"
- "Saudi Arabia's Great Thirst"
- "Pictures: Unspoiled Rivers"
"Buried Treasure" by George Black, Executive Editor, OnEarth Magazine
From the judges: Some stories fade quickly from the mind or lose their core ideas in a surplus of words. Days and weeks after reading it, we remembered this description of mining in the high country of the Andes Mountains. This is not an exhaustive, technically detailed recitation of the issues surrounding some of the world’s largest metallic mines, but it is a richly told piece. Technical information is there when needed and is backed by cinematic descriptions, but at its heart this is a well-told story about the cultural and sometimes physical struggle that has erupted as inhabitants of the Peruvian Andes, worried about the quality and quantity of their water supply, resist the latest wave of foreigners seeking to gouge gold from the lands of the Inca and the Spanish conquistadors.
“Mystery in the Fields" by Ronnie Greene, Senior Reporter, The Center for Public Integrity; Sasha Chavkin, Freelance Investigative Reporter; Anna Barry-Jester, Freelance Multimedia Journalist
From the judges: Reporters for the Center for Public Integrity found a mystery which for the moment remains a mystery. In a detailed piece of work spanning continents they highlight the similarity of kidney disease afflicting primarily male farm workers in India, Sri Lanka and Central America. Their exploration of this chronic disease of unknown origin includes a man who travels 60 miles twice a week for dialysis, the lackadaisical attitude of governments toward the problem, and what is known of the science. This work is also notable for doing an excellent job with more than one medium. Words, photos, video, and graphics were used very well and to good effect.
- "As Kidney Disease Kills Thousands Across Continents, Scientists Scramble for Answers"
- "In Sri Lanka, Breakthroughs, Setbacks and a Spiritual Touch"
- "In India, Verdant Terrain Conceals Clues to a Fatal Kidney Disease"
- "In Sri Lanka, New Steps Target Mysterious Kidney Disease"
“Tiny Predators: Facing Cape Cod’s Tick Problem" by Sean Corcoran, Senior Reporter/Editor, WCAI Cape and Islands
From the judges: Ticks and their diseases have become so familiar that they’re like the weather; we keep an eye on it but may not think about what’s behind it. These pieces go behind. With a nice mix of clearly explained technical information and the experiences of people living with tick-borne disease, the WCAI staff delves into ecology, the possibilities for natural predation, and the world’s longest-running tick research project to show us where science is in its understanding of an old and little-regarded nemesis.
“Environmental Beat Reporting” by Sam Eaton, Freelance Journalist, for PRI's The World
From the judges: Sam Eaton brought his listeners not just the world but the way it is changing at the hand of man. With crisp and clear writing and place-setting ambient sound, Eaton stands out most as he examines Fukushima after the nuclear accident and an Arctic in the midst of changing. With a beat as literally as large as the world, Eaton does it justice.
- "Fukushima’s Hot Zone Cleanup: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory"
- "A Year After Fukushima, Clean Energy Still Just a Promise in Japan"
- "As Arctic Warms, Scientists Explore Links to Extreme Weather"
- "With Stakes Rising, Can We Stop Catastrophic Climate Change?"
- "An Arctic Climate Catastrophe?"
“Environmental Coverage in Louisville” by James Bruggers, Environment Reporter, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal
From the judges: In his beat reporting for the Louisville Courier-Journal, James Bruggers looks globally to write locally. His package of stories on climate adaptation examined how farms and urban areas will have to reshape themselves to cope with the additional heat and rainstorms that a changing climate will bring. And Bruggers’ piece on the metro sewer district shows the best, but often overlooked, aspect of beat reporting: watchdogging oversight that can literally force public agencies to clean up their act.
- "Weathering the Extremes"
- "Weather Shifts Force Farmers To Adapt"
- "Heat Island"
- "Air Is Better; Concern Remains"
- "MSD Draws Praise for Turnaround"
“BBC News - Environment 2012” by Matt McGrath, Science and Environment Reporter, BBC
From the judges: The BBC's Matt McGrath has received an honorable mention in the large market category. Matt showed great versatility with wide-ranging stories on water tables in Africa; wind mills in Ireland, and pesticide-resistant weeds on U.S. farms. He wrote with clarity and precision, providing highly readable pieces on complex subjects. He adroitly used individual stories to make broader points, and had a keen eye for the telling detail.
- "'Huge' water resource exists under Africa"
- "Agent Orange chemical in GM war on resistant weeds"
- "Bread that lasts for 60 days could cut food waste"
- "Fracking: Untangling fact from fiction"
- "Ireland to build 'giant' wind turbines to power UK homes"
“Shoreline Vulnerability in Fairfield County” by Neena Satija, Reporter, The Connecticut Mirror
From the judges: Neena Satija’s work for the Connecticut Mirror is an example of the best of beat reporting, shining a light on important, under-covered stories in often overlooked areas, and using human experience to highlight environmental issues. With deft, detailed writing, for instance, she tactfully balances the plight of a low-income community, built in a flood plain and still recovering from major storms, with the struggles of an overtaxed housing department without the resources to truly fix the problem. Then Satija turns around and explains why it’s problematic that a $120 billion investment company, with enough money to build anywhere, would choose to locate its new headquarters in the middle of another high-risk flood zone. Truly jaw-dropping, however, was Satija’s two-part series on problems at Stamford’s Water Pollution Control Authority. Satija spent four months digging into public records and tracking down dozens of current and former employees to show readers how infrastructure problems fell by the wayside as former leaders – including Connecticut’s current governor – pushed ahead with an expensive and poorly-planned waste-to-energy project. The stories do what every good investigation should: hold public officials accountable.
- "Bridgeport residents still suffering Sandy's hardships"
- "Bridgewater plan faces another potential setback: climate change"
- "Striving for innovation, spending millions, Stamford leaders ignored major problems"
- "Stamford's failed attempt at energy innovation cost taxpayers tens of millions"
- "Public housing residents nervously await next storm — with good reason"
“Environmental Health in the Great Lakes Region” by Brian Thomas Bienkowski, Staff Writer, Environmental Health News
From the judges: Brian Bienkowski’s work is a study in environmental-justice reporting. Whether it is a Michigan Indian tribe fighting a new copper mine for fear that sulfuric acid will contaminate sacred waters, or tribes whose culture has been contaminated by industry, or low-income, minority communities of East Chicago where blood samples show three times the normal level of PCBs, he makes the reader understand both the scientific and human dimensions of pollution. And when it comes to more purely scientific concerns, like the role of Great Lake Trout as barometers for the wider pollution of lake ecosystems, he shows deftness and grace in explaining how the tissues of these fish can be read as a history text of the decades of pollution that have soiled these waters.
- "Sacred Water, New Mine: A Michigan Tribe Battles a Global Corporation"
- "Contaminated Culture: Native People Struggle with Tainted Resources, Lost Identity"
- "Dredging Could Unleash PCBs in Indiana Community"
- "Fishing for Contaminants: Lake Trout a Harbinger of Global Pollutants"
- "Good News for Detroit: Lead Poisoning of Kids Drops 70 Percent Since 2004"
“Beat Reporting in Texas” by Mose Buchele, Reporter, KUT 90.5 FM
From the judges: Mose Buchele brings his radio stories alive, with an authoritative, compassionate voice and creative angles. The Texas drought is made vivid and human, thanks to the voices he chose and the images evoked, from empty meat hooks at a shuttered plant to a laid-off worker’s certificate of appreciation buffeting about on the wind. Using the medium to its fullest extent, he sets scenes with sound and contrast. Campy music lent high entertainment to a story about a possible vampire bat invasion. But behind the flash, Mose showed the reporter’s process with notable transparency, enhancing journalistic credibility. His gift for storytelling seizes and holds listeners’ attention, while the range and depth of his reporting gives them a solid grounding in locally relevant issues.
- "With Rain Falling on Texas Cities, Drought Rages on in the Rural West"
- "In Bastrop’s Ashes, Officials Find a Lesson in Prescribed Burning"
- "No, Vampire Bats are Not in Texas. Yet."
- "Oil and Gas Related Earthquakes? Texas Regulators Speak No Evil"
- "A Plant Closes on the Plains, and a Community Ponders Its Future"
“Attack of the Mutant Pupfish” by Hillary M. Rosner for Wired
From the judges: The judges liked its originality, snappy writing and unbridled sense of fun. Rosner hooked readers by using an unlikely critter (pupfish) as the main character for an allegorical tale about genetics and species survival in a rapidly changing world. The story raised profound questions about managing wildness, biodiversity and the role of human intervention. It's the best kind of environmental science writing — one with a light touch.
“Rhino Wars” by Peter Gwin, for National Geographic
From the judges: This article showed a fabulous piece of reporting that reads like a script from a tragic movie drama. Peter Gwin wrote about the dramatic rhinoceros poaching crisis in Africa, and then continued on to Asia to explore what's driving demand: a mistaken belief that the iconic horn can cure cancer. He found interesting characters on this journey that brought new insight into the crisis that is pushing rhinos on a path to extinction. The judges were impressed, not only with his artful, spare writing, but his resourcefulness to penetrate this world and get sources to talk from a jailhouse interview with an avowed poacher to a patron in a shop peddling pulverized rhino horn drinks in Vietnam.
“Toxic Tribulations” by Tiffany Kary for Bloomberg Markets
From the judges: Tiffany Kary showed the benefits of dogged reporting on the toxic legacy of Kerr-McGee Corp. that stretches across the country. The article was an impressive, well-researched, well-written account of a corporate shell game to elude responsibility. It’s hard to find good examples that can bring to life past actions that corporate entities would just as soon forget. Kary found a perfect one, in the personal tale of an ailing Pentecostal minister and others in his Mississippi community to illustrate what's at stake in a $25-billion dollar lawsuit.
The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of by Lisa Song and Elizabeth McGowan
From the judges: The Rachel Carson Book Award recognizes not just the best environmental books of the year, but in particular those that carry on Carson’s legacy of literary, science-based and deeply relevant environmental reporting. The Dilbit Disaster, about the 2010 spill of one million gallons of diluted bitumen from the Canadian tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, is this year’s clear winner. In reconstructing the event, tracing its root causes, and revealing the immediate impacts and continuing risks for people and the environment, its authors provide the necessary starting point for a society-wide debate about the potential and perils of transporting unconventional oil. In so doing, they incidentally prove that the e-book format is no barrier to inheriting the Carson legacy.
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers
From the judges: Randers, one of the original authors of The Limits to Growth, delivers a reality check 40 years on, and a sobering forecast for the next 40 years. It is a science-heavy report, with forecasts that are necessarily uncertain. But Randers manages to be comprehensive while maintaining a level of readability that should allow broad impact. The final four paragraphs resonate particularly, suggesting that we must “learn to live with impending disaster without losing hope.” That psychological contortion has long been a job requirement for environmental journalists, and this analysis underscores how essential it is.
On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder
From the judges: The judges at first resisted the obviousness of honoring a biography of this award’s namesake. But the depth, humanity and timeliness – and especially the graceful, moving writing – of On a Farther Shore soon outstripped any hesitation. Souder’s compelling narrative makes Carson’s life and work richly relevant in history, defends it in the present, and helps extend it into the future.
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"Ivory Worship" by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for National Geographic
From the judges: Ivory Worship contained perhaps the strongest single image of all the submissions, the hacking of tusks off an illegally-killed elephant by government rangers who were trying to keep the tusks off the black market. The benevolent brutality educates the viewer as to the horrors of actual poaching. The other images of ivory being carved into beautiful ornaments speak to the utterly separate universe illegal ivory goes to around the world once it leaves Africa.
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"In Nigerian Gold Rush, Lead Poisons Thousands of Children" by David Gilkey for NPR.org
From the judges: With the sad, hopeless and haunting eyes of workers and the vivid fouling and discoloration of the water and land, Nigerian Gold Rush leaves little doubt how the coveted mineral leaves degradation in its wake.
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"Mongolia Booms" by John W. Poole for NPR's Morning Edition
From the judges: Anchored by an image of desperate people digging illegally for gold along a roadside, Mongolia Booms gives a glimpse of the “bust” side of gold and copper mining.
Erin Ailworth, Staff Writer, Boston Globe
Erik Anderson, Reporter, KPBS San Diego
Felicity Barringer, Staff Writer, The New York Times (Washington Bureau)
Seth Borenstein, Science Writer, The Associated Press
Alex Chadwick, Host of BURN: An Energy Journal
Marla Cone, Editor in Chief, Environmental Health News
Jackleen de La Harpe, Freelance Journalist
John A. Dillon, Reporter, Vermont Public Radio
Dan Egan, Reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sarah Elton, Author and Journalist
Erica Gies, Independent Journalist
David Harrison, Reporter, Stateline.org
Thomas Hayden, Lecturer, Stanford University, and Freelance Journalist
Derrick A Jackson, Editorial Writer and Columnist, The Boston Globe
Shawn McCarthy, National Business Correspondent, Globe and Mail
Vince Patton, Producer/Reporter, Oregon Public Broadcasting
Susan P Sharon, Deputy News Director, Maine Public Broadcasting Network
David Steinkraus, Freelance Writer
Douglas Struck, Associate Chair, Journalism Dept, Emerson College; former Washington Post Foreign correspondent and Environment Reporter
JoAnn Myer Valenti, Emerita Professor of Communications
Ken Weiss, Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and Independent Journalist
2013 Awards Committee
Beth Daley, The Boston Globe
Director of SEJ Awards