SEJ 2008 Annual Conference: Phenomenal, Memorable, Practical, Not To Be Missed

August 15, 2008

By BILL KOVARIK AND KEN WARD

The 18th annual SEJ conference in Roanoke, Va., Oct. 15- 19, hosted by Virginia Tech, is shaping up to be one of the most memorable and practical yet.

• Memorable, because of the extraordinary speakers, the beautiful location, and the easy access to fun networking events.

• Practical, for you as a journalist, because of the wide variety of craft sessions in fully equipped computer labs focused on helping you survive and thrive in a changing news business.

 Here are some of the details:

Speakers and sessions: We've lined up some extraordinary speakers including Alexandra and Philippe Cousteau, Wendell Berry, Bob Edwards, Jeff Goodell, Amory Lovins and Robert Bullard, among others. With 20 tours and more than 50 panel sessions over five days, the conference will provide a snapshot of the state of the art and the current issues confronting the profession. Among the panel sessions you will find incisive discussions on coal, climate, polar science, toxic chemicals, biofuels and environmental justice.

Location, location, location: The restored Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke is a treasure and much in demand at the height of the fall leaf season in the Blue Ridge. Also, downtown Roanoke is compact, and all beat dinners and other events are within easy walking distance.

The Tours: Thursday tours range from mountaintop removal site visits to hikes along the Appalachian Trail to ecotourism on the Blue Ridge Parkway to, count 'em, two separate kayak/canoe trips down renowned rivers.

Craft sessions: With two fully equipped computer labs next door to the conference center, the practical value of this year's conference is, in itself, a huge attraction. "These days, digital media offer the greatest opportunities for journalists— but those opportunities can be scary if you don't know where to start," said Poynter Institute weblog editor Amy Gahran, who is coordinating the SEJ conference training. "We will focus on basic skills and tools that anyone can learn, even with limited time and budget." The computer-training lineup includes:

  • Using databases.
  • Turning data into stories.
  • Expanding career options during a Network Lunch breakout discussion group, so bring your questions!
  • Basic audio production and editing.
  •  Basic video production and editing.
  •  Maps, geodata, and your stories.
  •  Smart blogging and useful social media.

Space in the computer labs is limited. Watch for announcements about advance sign-ups.

Saturday afternoon mini-tours will include some of the region's finest research developments in environmental science. We'll have a chance to visit Virginia Tech's black bear research center, use GPS technology, learn about aquaculture, megalandfills, green buildings, agriculture research, creek restoration, prescribed forest burns, and nanotechnology in environmental science.

Saturday night you'll need a break, and we have a neverto- be-forgotten party located in the middle of a train yard. The reception and dance at the Virginia Museum of Transportation is hosted by the Roanoke Times, the Roanoker magazine, Blue Ridge Business Journal and other publishing groups in the region.

On Sunday, the "Bestsellers Breakfast" will be headlined by a conversation between Wendell Berry and Ann Pancake. Berry is a world-renowned author of many books of fiction and non-fiction, including the 1978 Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Berry is often called the "conscience of Appalachia." Pancake wrote the 2007 book Strange as this Weather Has Been and has been called "Appalachia's Steinbeck" by Kirkus Reviews. Also, SEJ's many book authors will be gratified to hear that we will have a special ongoing venue for signings and readings during the conference.

Pre-conference boot camp: Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism will train those new to the beat or needing to bolster their reporting toolbox. The boot camp starts Sunday Oct 12 and continues through Wednesday Oct. 15.

 Pre-conference workshop, Wednesday, Oct. 15: Covering Climate Change and Our Energy Future in Rural America will explore the past, present and future of coal in Appalachia and the southeastern United States. This penetrating, day-long analysis will kick off SEJ's annual conference at Virginia Tech.

Post-Conference Tour: From the Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, Sunday, Oct 19 through Wednesday, Oct. 22: The Chesapeake Bay, North America's largest and historically most productive estuary, is facing enormous challenges. This tour will introduce you to the people and places involved in the continuing struggle to save the bay 25 years after it became a poster child for regional ecosystem restoration. We'll take you from the headwaters of the James River to Tangier Island and on to the marshlands and oyster farms that are struggling to survive the onslaught of development.

Come build some memories, have some fun, and take advantage of the outstanding training and networking opportunities in Roanoke, Va. on Oct. 15 – 19, with the Society of Environmental Journalists. 

Bill Kovarik and Ken Ward Jr. are 2009 conference co-chairs.

** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Summer 2008

BILL KOVARIK and KEN WARD JR