Outstanding Feature Story, Large: SEJ 22nd Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

First Place

"What Do the Protectors of Congo's Peatlands Get in Return?" by Ruth Maclean and Caleb Kabanda, with photography by Nanna Heitmann, for The New York Times

Screenshot of first-place Feature Story, Large
Screenshot of first-place Feature Story, Large


Judges' comments: "The piece was the most narratively driven and cinematic of all the entries, giving readers rich, fleshed out characters, vivid scenes and an urgent environmental and socioeconomic dilemma in which there are no easy answers. The exhaustive and detailed reporting, flecked with moments of dark humor, was complemented with great aerial and video components — readers felt like they were in the village, grappling with a thorny, high-stakes issue that's both global and local. 'Peatlands' was at once satisfying in its execution of a narrative arc and left the jurors hungry for more."

Bio: Ruth Maclean is the West Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. Previously she worked for the Guardian and The Times of London, reporting from Africa, Europe and Latin America for 15 years. She aims to provide nuanced coverage of the 25 countries she covers, with a focus on the people living in them.


Second Place

"The Tragedy of North Birmingham" by Max Blau for ProPublica

Judges' comments: "In this comprehensive, deeply reported story of prolonged injustice, the reporter deftly translates his years of following those gravely impacted by the Birmingham coke plants into a plot-driven narrative. Drone images and interactive maps complement the document-rich investigative reporting that undergirds this illuminating piece. The result is an intellectually engaging story which amplifies the residents' voices and describes their agency. The jurors were also impressed with the story's impact: three months after publication, the company was significantly fined."


Third Place

"Los Olvidados de Hidalgo" by Carlos Carabaña, Omar Torres Bobadilla, Paul Ramírez, Enrique De La Mora, Berta Alfaro, Raymundo Mondragón, Cecilia Guadarrama, Daniel Cabrera, Eric Ruiz Esparza, Oswaldo Montañez, Joaquin Ortega, Thais Morales, Íñigo Arredondo Vera and Omar Sánchez De Tagle for N+

Team roles:

  • Carlos Carabaña, Reporter, Lead Investigation
  • Omar Torres Bobadilla, Design and Graphics
  • Paul Ramírez, Lead Video Direction
  • Enrique De La Mora, Camera Operator 
  • Berta Alfaro, Hidalgo Reporter
  • Raymundo Mondragón, Drone Operator
  • Cecilia Guadarrama, Screenplay
  • Daniel Cabrera, Eric Ruiz Esparza, Oswaldo Montañez, Joaquin Ortega and Thais Morales, Animations
  • Íñigo Arredondo Vera, Deputy Director
  • Omar Sánchez De Tagle, Director

Judges' comments: "The jurors were moved by the strong production of this otherwise shockingly unknown story. Through excellent use of archival footage, previously unreleased documents and powerful, heartbreaking imagery, this story shone a light on and gave voice to people living in and imperiled by an atrociously polluted environment."


First Honorable Mention

"What's the Correct Color of a Bee?" by Denise Hruby for The New York Times

Judges' comments: "Chilling echoes of history and layers of absurdity haunt this story about the 'proper' hue of bees. The jurors were astonished and horrified — 'punched in the face' — by the originality of this journalist's shoe leather reporting, which exposed how Nazi ideology, eugenics and racism are threatening the survival of certain bees."


Second Honorable Mention

"The Arctic Revolution That's Changing Climate Science" by Danielle Bochove for Bloomberg Green

Judges' comments: "This story illuminated varieties of knowledge — academic and Indigenous — demonstrating that all of society is endangered when ancestral knowledge of the Arctic environment is not included in the search for ways to address and adjust to climate change. Complemented with stark imagery and descriptive scenes, this piece explores how, in addition to other industries, traditionally trained scientists are also guilty of extractive practices."


Third Honorable Mention

"The World's First Fair-Trade Psychedelic" by Rachel Nuwer for National Geographic

Judges' comments: "This is a beautifully written, far-reaching piece describing the intersection of addiction, nature and business. The mismanagement of a miracle drug holds ethical consequences at a global scale. The judges admired this article's originality and elevation of a complex issue."


The Society of Environmental Journalists' annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment honor the best environmental journalism in 10 categories, bringing recognition to the stories that are among the most important on the planet. Prizes are $500 for first-place winners and $250 for second-place winners in all categories. Plus, the Nina Mason Pulliam Award for the "best of the best" environmental reporting will award $10,000 to one entry selected from the first-place winners of SEJ's Awards for Reporting on the Environment. The Pulliam Award also includes travel, registration and hotel expenses (up to $2,500) for the winner, or representatives of the winning team, to attend SEJ's annual conference.

The SEJ contest is the world's largest and most comprehensive environmental journalism competition. This year, a record-breaking 589 entries in 10 categories were judged by independent volunteer panels of journalists and professors.

On November 16, 2023, at SEJ's 2024 Journalists' Guide to Energy & Environment event in Washington, D.C., we'll announce live the winner of the Nina Mason Pulliam Award and its $10,000 cash prize.

SEJ's 2023 Esteemed Judges and Screeners
SEJ's 2023 Awards Committee

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