Winners: SEJ 9th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

 

The Society of Environmental Journalists is proud to present the winners of the 2009-2010 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-nine entries in 11 categories were selected, with two honorable mentions. Reporters, editors and journalism educators who served as contest judges pored over 216 entries to choose the finalists representing the best environmental reporting in print and on television, radio, the Internet and in student publications.

SEJ honored the winners Oct. 13, 2010, at a gala ceremony in the University Center, University of Montana - Missoula, on the first day of SEJ’s 20th annual conference. SEJ’s Rachel Carson Environment Book Award winner received $1,000 and a pair of marble bookends bearing the contest, book and author information. Each of the other winning entries received $1,000 and a crystal trophy.

SEJ's 2010 Awards for Reporting on the Environment are...

 

Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Print
Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print
Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print
Outstanding Online Reporting
SEJ's Rachel Carson Environment Book Award
Outstanding Beat or In-depth Reporting, Radio
Outstanding Student Reporting
Outstanding Beat or In-Depth Reporting, TV
Outstanding Small-market Reporting, Print
Outstanding Story, TV, Small Market
Outstanding Story, TV, Large Market 

List of judges and committee members.


 

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Print

 

Agent Orange: A Lethal Legacy

Chicago Tribune
Jason Grotto, Tim Jones, Kuni Takahashi, Chris Walker

The Chicago Tribune's five-part series on Agent Orange's lethal legacy explains in heart-wrenching detail how the weapons of war can keep on maiming and killing decades after hostilities end. The series by reporters Jason Grotto and Tim Jones opens with an unflinching look at the devastating disabilities currently suffered by the children of veterans who fought on opposite sides of the Vietnam War but whose exposure to toxic defoliants condemned their offspring to lives of incurable misery. Reporting from Vietnam and examining records dating back a half-century, Grotto and Jones found that the chemical companies that made the herbicides knew of their lethal properties, but said nothing, five years before the chemicals were phased out. By then, about 200,000 US service personnel had been exposed along with untold thousands of Vietnamese. As Grotto and Jones report, toxic residue still in the ground virtually assures that people born long after the war ended will be numbered among its casualties. One of the biggest challenges of environmental journalism is assessing the harm done by chemicals that can take years to take effect. By refusing to see Agent Orange as old news and by examining its impact 50 years later, Grotto and Jones met that challenge with a powerful chronicle of enduring pain and loss.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Print

 

Climate Change

The Associated Press
Charles J. Hanley and Seth Borenstein

In a year when climate change stories dominated environmental news, Associated Press reporters Charles J. Hanley and Seth Borenstein brought readers a superb mix of stories that ranged from cutting-edge science to the examination of climate myths. Hanley takes readers to the planet’s poles to tell of dwindling caribou herds and boreal forests transformed into a tinderbox by ever-higher temperatures and the munchings of an aggressive beetle. He follows an international team of Antarctic researchers whose traverse of one of the least known places on the globe will help provide crucial evidence on how Antarctic ice sheets will respond in a warmer world, and learns about elephant seals in service to science. Borenstein tackled the numbers and policy side of the equation, including a statistical debunking of claims that the Earth is cooling, not warming, a thorough review of the more than 1,000 emails that were stolen from climate scientists and posted online, and a sobering overview of the world’s climate promises post-Kyoto. This combination presented readers a diverse, insightful and chilling view of humankind’s most daunting challenge — climate change.

 

THIRD PLACE: Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Print

 

The Writing on the Wall

Los Angeles Times
Julie Cart

Rarely does a story cut through the cacophony of climate-change reporting to stop you in your tracks.  In “The Writing on the Wall,” Julie Cart does just that.  Dispatched from the Los Angeles Times to cover Australia’s devastating wild fires, her reporter’s instincts led her to a deeper story lurking behind the immediate news: significant signs that heating and drying trends in Australia may offer a preview of the catastrophic potential of unchecked global climate change. Her writing is as searing and crisp as her findings are sobering: steel structures buckling in the heat, animals dropping dead from trees, shrinking coral reefs, the spread of water-borne disease, ruined farmers committing suicide. She links human, scientific and political into a tight whole, using the oft-romanticized backdrop of Australia to good effect. The story could have benefited from a deeper exploration, perhaps in a sidebar, of the political and economic force that is Australia’s juggernaut coal industry. But Cart’s tight, active writing and smart, connect-the-dots reporting grip you throughout, never confuse and set the table to make you want to know more.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print

 

Toxic Waters

The New York Times
Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg's groundbreaking and impactful look at America's drinking water is the unanimous choice among judges for the Carmody investigative print award. The length, scope, and revelations contained in the Toxic Waters investigation made an impressive contribution to the public debate on water use in the U.S. It also proved impossible for politicians to ignore, resulting in the sort of changes befitting the best watch-dog journalism. The excellent multi-media use of data and graphics also nicely complemented the fine storytelling in the text.

 

 

SECOND PLACE: Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print

 

Natural Gas Drilling: A Threat to Water?

ProPublica
Abrahm Lustgarten, Joaquin Sapien, Sabrina Shankman

This exhaustive ProPublica series into the environmental impact of natural gas drilling on water resources raised public awareness of an important, but largely overlooked, environmental issue and helped to spur politicians to action. The methodical and well-written stories were easily understandable, neatly melding the human experience with the investigative paper chase. Importantly, the series exposed not just problems, but also pointed to solutions.

 

THIRD PLACE: Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print

 

Who's Watching the Farm?

Wisconsin State Journal
Ron Seely

This series bravely took on the big factory farm lobby, exposing weaknesses in government regulation and enforcement that are putting important water resources — and the citizens who rely upon them — at risk. "Who's Watching the Farm" is an example of journalistic excellence, making an important contribution to the public debate just as the Department of Natural Resources is considering a further weakening of scrutiny of factory farms.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print

 

Environmental Beat Reporting

The Seattle Times
Craig Allen Welch

Solid reporting is at the base of any good journalism. What set apart the entry from Craig Welch at The Seattle Times was the reporter's ability to bring together solid reporting on a wide range of topics, from the demise of local shellfish industries to conflict between wolves and ranchers, and deteriorating levees, with superb writing. Welch used a wide variety of voices to tell compelling local stories that tie into larger regional or global issues. His stories broke news, were surprising and readable, the trifecta in beat reporting.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print

 

The Last Jaguar

Arizona Daily Star
Anthony J. Davis and Tim Steller

Tony Davis and Tim Steller at the Arizona Daily Star were tenacious and their stories got action, the essence of beat journalism. Their stories on the death of the last U.S. jaguar and the mishaps that led to the death resulted in a federal criminal investigation that still continues. They sank their teeth into a story, kept digging and kept coming up with good angles

These stories are not available electronically.

 

THIRD PLACE: Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print

 

Green China

The New York Times
Keith Bradsher

Keith Bradsher at The New York Times submitted a solid series of often eye-opening stories that shed a great deal of light on China's rising place in the energy and primary resource sector. The stories expose places where China is leading the United States economically and environmentally, as well as places where our green products rely on some of China's most environmentally damaging exports. His stories broke new ground, were comprehensive and authoritative.

These stories are not available electronically.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Online Reporting

 

The Last Untamed River

Radio Free Asia
Minh-Ha Le

"The Last Untamed River" is a memorable project that vividly depicts the dimensions of an environmental issue unfamiliar to many people.  This visual voyage down the Mekong River from its source to its mouth brought to life a river ecosystem — make that ecosystems — of enormous complexity.  We see and hear about the fragility of this storied river from the people who live near it, as well as the problems brought about by those who benefit from its exploitation.  It’s a remarkable and thorough treatment, adding a variety of often ignored voices to a global problem.  It is outstanding journalism, and the ancillary materials give the project even more depth.

Supplemental Materials:

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Online Reporting

 

A Visit to the Farallon Islands

KQED Quest
Lauren Sommer, Andrea Kissack, Craig Rosa, Paul Rogers

This is a well-crafted and engaging package of stories and visuals that put the viewer right in the midst of the birds on these islands — a backstage visit to a place that citizens cannot readily access. KQED Quest has produced a wonderfully layered package with very high production values. It engages viewers with a slew of online techniques, like interactive maps and links to multiple stories, with creativity and technical prowess. It is an exploration and an environmental story that affords the viewer a deep experience with an opportunity to delve deeply into the subject.

 

Note: Judges did not select a third-place winner in this category.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: SEJ's Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

 

Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought

Walker & Co
James G. Workman

Judges were impressed by this book's originality and ambitious approach. Heart of Dryness explains the global water crisis through the eyes of the Bushmen of Botswana, a group of persecuted people who have learned to survive in the Kalahari Desert and its longstanding drought. Workman provided a point of view rarely found or captured in North American books and wrote with eloquence, grace and objectivity. Judges said he raised serious questions about how water has been used as a political tool and showed the bold steps some people from different walks of life will take to protect their sense of home.

 

SECOND PLACE: SEJ's Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

 

Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It

Island Press
Robert Glennon

Though there have been other books before it which have put America's water crisis into some sort of regional perspective, Unquenchable impressed judges with its depth of reporting, its comprehensive scope, its authoritative voice and its almost up-to-the-minute research. Glennon surely writes better than your typical law professor; as one judge stated, he provided "a masterful survey of our nation's tangled water policies, as well as our wrong-headed assumptions that we can develop in the desert despite ever-scarcer supplies of water."

 

THIRD PLACE: SEJ's Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

 

Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss

University Press of Florida
Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite

Disguised as a regional book about Florida, Paving Paradise is an absolute must-read for anyone concerned about regulatory incompetence and accountability, especially that of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its enormous influence on how our nation's land is destroyed and its water polluted by unwise development. The authors spent more than three years investigating state and federal agencies that just couldn't say no to developers. Their exhaustive research is highly evident in this book, not just in connecting the dots between different projects but also in gaining the trust of key officials for hard-hitting candor and insight. Commendable. Gutsy. An excruciatingly well-documented and thorough examination of what went wrong in the Sunshine State. "This is top-notch investigative journalism," one judge said.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Radio

 

Architects Share Green Building Ideas

PRI’s The World
Jason Margolis

This piece stood head and shoulders above the competition for the reporter’s skill in taking a simple and increasingly familiar concept — greenhouse gas emissions — and helping the listener understand it in terms of the spaces so many of us inhabit during our workdays. Margolis used sound exceptionally well to bring the listener to the streets and buildings of Toronto and Mexico City. His writing and interviews helped make architectural challenges, which are so often opaque to the lay public, clear and understandable. The content was surprising, revealing and compelling, and the manner in which it was conveyed to the listener was masterful.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Radio

 

Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future

Michigan Public Radio and The Environment Report
Mark Brush, Shawn Allee, Lester Graham, Rebecca M. Williams, Erika Celeste, Sandra Sleight-Brennan, Julie Edelson Halpert, Matt Shafer Powell

Ambitious, balanced, and deeply relevant, this documentary by Mark Brush and his colleagues is an indispensable guide to North America’s most prevalent and most hidden source of energy. The team set out to connect listeners to the source of the energy they rely on every day. What they wound up doing goes far beyond that: they brought us the voices, experiences, hopes and fears of the individuals who make that electricity possible, along with the voices of people who are demanding on behalf of our communities and our future that the energy industry does that in a better, cleaner way. It’s a complex, nuanced and immediately accessible piece that should be required listening for the nation.

 

THIRD PLACE: Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Radio

 

On Their Own Terms

PRI’s Living on Earth
Ingrid Lobet

This piece stood out from other entries for its capacity to encourage the listener to see the world in new ways. Suddenly, the computer on which we send emails today and the old tube television thrown out last year become important elements in a borderlands story of community development and economic advancement. And it also happens to be a story about recycling! “On Their Own Terms” is a compelling and moving work that ties together economic, social, environmental and community issues. Lobet is to be applauded for the discovery of this intriguing story and the skillful manner in which she tells it.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Student Reporting

 

Powering a Nation: The Coal Story

Sara Peach, Jenn Hueting, Monica Ulmanu, Chris Carmichael

Environmentalists argue that removing Appalachian mountaintops to mine coal is a disaster. For many who live in that hardscrabble area, it seems an economic necessity. Sara Peach and her student team from the University of North Carolina captured that basic division, and its many nuances, in a well-constructed series of interviews and images presented in a style that’s dispassionate and non-judgmental and, largely because of that, makes clear how wrenching this issue is.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Outstanding Student Reporting

 

University of Montana Grace Case Project

Laura Lundquist

A team of 31 students and three professors from the University of Montana schools of law and journalism provided groundbreaking, online courthouse coverage of the W.R. Grace asbestos trial in Missoula, Montana. Thousands of readers from across the country hung on the up-to-the-minute blog posts and Twitter updates.  The project made news as the first reporting effort to use Twitter to cover a federal criminal trial. The coverage was innovative, comprehensive and noteworthy for its combination of breaking news, legal analysis and explanatory journalism. Kudos to the team for engaging a community of readers and providing important insights into what has been called the most significant environmental criminal trial in American history.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Outstanding Student Reporting

 

Trouble in Rossmoor: The Woodpecker Chronicles

Bay Nature Magazine
Daniel McGlynn

Student journalist Daniel McGlynn set out to document a flap between homeowners and woodpeckers, but succeeded in uncovering a much broader story that ultimately weighs the costs and benefits of buying a home in the wildland-urban interface. His thorough reporting brought tremendous scope and depth to “Trouble in Rossmoor: The Woodpecker Chronicles.” McGlynn’s ability to search out motives, his attention to detail, and his dogged pursuit of the story through multiple states provides a rare and honest look at the question of who wins, and who loses, when people move into habitat — and when “attractive” wildlife suddenly becomes “destructive” wildlife.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Television

 

Climate Change Winners and Losers

CBS Evening News and CBS Sunday Morning
Ben Plesser and Mark Phillips

The judges were unanimous in awarding first prize in the "BEAT/IN-DEPTH TV" category to "Climate Change Winners and Losers." This two-part report was a superb example of what television does best: taking us to places and showing us what is happening with strong, clear images. There was obviously a lot of research that went into this story about the extreme edges of what's happening with climate change, but it didn't get in the way of the storytelling. The writing was crisp, precise and witty. The reporter's on-camera appearances were dramatic and engaging, from riding in the dog sled in Greenland to snorkelling in the Maldives and demonstrating by walking in the water what the consequences of rising sea levels could be.

The report reminded us that over a billion people could be affected by what's happening. It did so in a graphic, entertaining and memorable way that is certain to have impact on viewers.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Television

 

Quest: National Parks Special: Bringing the Parks to the People

KQED Quest, San Francisco, CA
Christopher Bauer, Jenny Oh, Sheraz Sadiq, Amy Miller, Gail Huddleson, Paul Rogers

Spectacular videography, an inspiring story, and heroic subjects combined to make this a documentary we will not soon forget. How fitting that the final word in this entry is "hope", because that's exactly what these persistent visionaries whose story was so well-told have provided for all of us — a belief that miracles can happen with hope and hard work. The piece left us wanting to visit Golden Gate National Recreation Area and to create something this wonderful where all of us live.

 

THIRD PLACE: Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Television

 

Transit Development vs. Open Space/Ancient Site

KSL-TV, Salt Lake City, UT
John Daley

The judges commend John Daley's dedication and thorough reporting in his "Mass Transit v. Public Space" series. It is certain that while working this story, Daley faced the same pressures of time, resources and staffing we all deal with in our news rooms day to day. Yet he followed an anonymous viewer call through to an investigation and ultimately exposed a major case of corruption. A superb journalistic effort.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Small Market Reporting, Print

 

Green vs. Green: Environmentalists Duke It Out

Monterey County Weekly
Kera Abraham

By examining conflicts in which both sides laid plausible claim to being champions of the environment, Abraham offered an unusually sophisticated and thought-provoking examination of what it means to be green. Her pieces were thoroughly reported, engagingly told, fresh and fair-minded.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Small Market Reporting, Print

 

A Quiet Hell

Houston Press
Chris Vogel

A dogged and meticulous use of public records to document the appalling lapses of an important regulatory agency. A classic example of accountability journalism.

 

THIRD PLACE: Outstanding Small Market Reporting, Print

 

Soup-to-Nuts: Small Market Reporting

Earth Island Journal
Jason Mark

Mark's explanation of the emerging and controversial notion of geo-engineering was authoritative without being wonkish, and brought an important piece of environmental science vividly to life.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Story, Television, Small Market

 

Poison Water

WHIO-TV, Dayton, OH
Kathryn Burcham

The judges were impressed with the reporter's research and development of this strong, local story. She and her station demonstrated a commitment to a subject that other media outlets may have been tempted to overlook. Her tenacity is evident by the positive results that were achieved for the residents of Garden City.

This story is not available electronically.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Story, Television, Small Market

 

The Air We Breathe

WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh, PA
Jim Parsons, Michael Lazorko, Kendall Cross

The judges liked the side-by-side comparison of Pittsburgh to Louisville. It was an unusual and effective way of telling the story. We also appreciated how the reporter pressed government officials for answers.

Supplemental Materials:

 

Note: Judges did not select a third-place winner in this category.

 

*****************************************

FIRST PLACE: Outstanding Story, Television, Large Market

 

Seahorse Sleuths

KQED Quest, San Francisco, CA
Joan Johnson, Jenny Oh, Shirley Gutierrez, Kenji Yamamoto, Josh Rosen, Paul Rogers

A compelling piece about a strange and fascinating creature jeopardized by the global trade in dried seahorses. Beautiful images, combined with solid editing, made this entry stand out, as did the documenting of efforts by scientists and advocates to save the seahorse. This story was made exceptional by the power of great underwater video as well as undercover video from inside the markets where a startling number of seahorses are sold. The narrative structure, beginning with a detailed explanation of what seahorses are and how little we know about them, gives added urgency to the troubling issue of unregulated trade that serves to close the story.  “Seahorse Sleuths” is an intriguing look at a species, and an issue, that has otherwise received little attention.

 

SECOND PLACE: Outstanding Story, Television, Large Market

 

Borneo: Human and Environmental Health

PBS NewsHour
Fred de Sam Lazaro, Nicole See, Tom Adair, Skip Davis

This story connects two hot-button topics, health care and the environment, and creates a powerful story that crosses geographical boundaries. Accolades go to the team for traveling to Southeast Asia to tell a story from “in the trenches” where environmental degradation and its impact on human health can be seen up-close. The stories of Dr. and Mr. Webb, sewn together with fascinating facts on the rate of logging and the history of these Borneo communities, keep the story engaging. The pace of the story is refreshingly unhurried and the reporting team did a terrific job capturing this unique health-care program with clear, concise writing, shooting and editing.

 

THIRD PLACE: Outstanding Story, Television, Large Market

 

Algae Power

KQED Quest, San Francisco, CA
Gabriela Quirós, Josh Rosen, Jenny Oh, Linda Peckham, Gail Huddleson, Amy Miller, Paul Rogers

Stunning visuals of colorful algae open this story, which quickly blows the lid off any perception of algae as “ordinary.” Good-humored and lively narration, fun use of animations and exceptional high-definition video bring the uncommon story of algae and its potential as a power source to vivid life. “Algae Power” is solid explanatory journalism that covers some vast territory without getting bogged down. Viewers are given rich information from which they can both understand algae’s potential as a new source of fuel as well as its potential unintended consequences. Judges found the use of music and sound effects overbearing and unnecessary at times, though it was offset by otherwise exceptional production values.

 


2010 Distinguished Judges:
Jacqui Banaszynski, Knight Chair in Journalism, University of Missouri
Nancy Bazilchuk, Freelance Science and Environmental Writer
Jim Bettinger, Director, Knight Fellowships at Stanford
Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press
Frank Clifford, Freelance Journalist and former Environment Editor, Los Angeles Times
John Daley, KSL-TV
Peter Desbarats, Canadian Author, Producer and Journalist
Jim Detjen, Director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Michigan State University
Dan Eagen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
John Flesher, The Associated Press
Sammy Fretwell, The State
Dan Gillmor, Director, Knight Digital Media Center
Dan Glick, The Story Group
AJ Goodwin, WFOR CBS
Peter Gorrie, former Environment Reporter, The Toronto Star
Tom Henry, The (Toledo) Blade
Ed Jahn, Oregon Public Broadcasting
Michael Jamison, The Missoulian
Pat Jeflyn, CBC-TV
Bill Keller, The New York Times
Tim Knight, Freelance Producer
Betsy Marston, High Country News
Karen McCrindle, University of Toronto
Susan Moran, Knight Science Fellow at MIT
Dan Mouthrop, Ideastream
Jim Parsons, WTAE-TV
Larry Pynn, The Vancouver Sun
Ira Rosen, 60 Minutes
Craig Saunders, Freelance Editor and Writer
Kim Segal, CNN
Susan Sharon, Maine Public Broadcasting
Sarah Shipley Hiles, Freelance Journalist
Jim Simon, Seattle Times
Stephen Stock, WFOR CBS
Daniel Zwerdling, NPR 

2010 Awards Committee:
Jeff Burnside, NBC Universal, WTVJ, co-chair
Vince Patton, OPB, co-chair
Emilia Askari, Independent Journalist
Saul Chernos, Freelance Journalist
Douglas Fischer, Editor, DailyClimate.org
Chris Rigel, SEJ staff liaison