SEJ Names Top Environmental Stories And Journalists

November 15, 2007

Pollution of lakes, streams and oceans, the long-lasting effects of mining and mineral processing and attempts to turn laws protecting fragile habitats on their heads were the subjects of the best environmental journalism of 2006-2007, according to the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Winners and finalists were honored Sept. 5 at a gala ceremony in the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center on the campus of Stanford University in California, on the first day of SEJ's 17th annual conference. Eight winning entries for the SEJ contest received $1,000 each and a trophy.

Judges in the sixth annual contest sponsored by the SEJ selected 27 entries in 10 categories as finalists in the SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment, the world's largest and most comprehensive awards for journalism on environmental topics.

Judging panels of distinguished reporters, editors and journalism educators combed through nearly 200 entries to choose the finalists representing the best environmental reporting in print and on television, radio and the Internet. This year, the judges also chose the best environmental journalism among student entries.

In another first this year, Stanford University's John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists and the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West presented the James V. Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism during the awards program. The $3,000 annual award recognizes excellence in reporting on environmental issues in the West.

Visit to view winners' stories online.

This year's SEJ winners are:

Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print 


FIRST PLACE: Craig Pittman, Matthew Waite, St. Petersburg Times

The series' deep and meticulous reporting uncovered the hijacking of a wetlands mitigation program that often failed to perform, instead lining the pockets of politically well-connected businessmen. The reporters turned a spotlight on government failures at the local, state and federal level, showing how a politically popular environmental policy is easily corruptible.

SECOND PLACE: Sara Shipley Hiles, Marina Walker Guevara, Mother Jones, "Cities of Lead"

This well-documented and well-written piece explored the atrocious environmental record of the Doe Run Co.'s lead smelters in the United States and Peru. The authors dramatically illustrated how offshoring allows companies to escape government oversight and make a profit at the same time – in this case with a terrible cost to the health of workers and neighbors of Doe Run's smelters.

THIRD PLACE: David Danelski, Jennifer Bowles, Duane Gang, Cassie MacDuff, Devona Wells, The Press- Enterprise, "The Big Squeeze"

The reporters pulled together large quantities of scientific and bureaucratic information, along with on-scene reporting, to draw a clear conclusion: A regional compromise between more development and protecting large blocks of wildlife habitat is failing. Compelling maps and graphics helped draw readers into a complex story.


Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print


FIRST PLACE: Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle

In a very strong contest category, Jane Kay's stories stand out as exemplars of the very best of what environmental beat reporting can be. The seven stories she submitted range widely in tone (from agenda-setting news to inspirational features) and subject (from rising sea levels to toxic toys), but what they all share is Kay's careful reporting, smart organization and clear, confident voice.

SECOND PLACE: Susan Gordon, The News Tribune  

Susan Gordon is a solid beat reporter, prowling the waterfront of her city to document new and lingering sources of the pollution, inadequate cleanup, misspent funds and inadequate state oversight. She goes deep and it shows in a great body of work.

THIRD PLACE: Tom Knudson, The Sacramento Bee "Fires"

In a series of stories about problems fighting western forest fires, restoring burned forests and outrageous costs in fighting the fires, Tom Knudson writes with the authority and clarity of a veteran of the environmental beat. Every story brings out powerful points, with eloquence. Beautiful work.


Outstanding Beat/In-depth Reporting, Radio 


FIRST PLACE: Bob Edwards, Andy Danyo, Geoffrey Redick, XM Satellite Radio XMPR Channel 133, "Exploding Heritage"

This documentary had it all: deep reporting, great writing, colorful storytelling, crisp production and a parade of engaging, passionate voices. Edwards creates haunting images and introduces us to voices that linger in the listener's mind for days. The writing sparkles, but never gets in the way of the story or its compelling voices. It also explores the tension and heartbreak over the coal industry's origins and the future of the rural communities that surround it. The documentary never loses its aim of communicating the potential peril. It also gives ample time to all sides of a complex story. Edwards took a familiar environmental topic and managed to make it new. It had depth, nuance and a determination to dynamite through the rhetoric…and uncover the truth. This excellent documentary shows just how great radio journalism can be.

SECOND PLACE: John Ryan, KUOW-94.9FM, Seattle, "As The Sound Churns"

Ryan's style is loose, cool and pleasingly ragged around the edges. Listen a bit closer and one also finds solid storytelling, thorough reporting and very clever, considered use of sound. Some of these elements can be cloying in the wrong hands. In Ryan's they all come together to create a great sense of place. It stood out amid all other entries because of its unique use of the medium. It raises the bar. You always wonder what Ryan has up his sleeve next. It broke the mold that environmental journalism usually gets squeezed into. Ryan didn't just tell us about The Puget Sound, he took us there — even when that meant following a trail of human waste, or ending up under a capsized kayak — but not at the same time, thankfully.

THIRD PLACE: Jim Handman, Jim Lebans, Bob McDonald, CBC Radio, Quirks & Quarks, "Biofuels: Greening Our Energy Further"

This piece offered a thorough, balanced examination of a "green" technology that most people do not fully understand. The program conveyed the promise of this type of renewable energy. But it was also unflinching in questioning the claims of advocates, and looking at who stands to profit. It distilled a very tough subject into something interesting and listenable. It also cleverly uses music and television experts to make its point.


Outstanding Beat/In-depth Reporting, Television


FIRST PLACE: Bill Retherford, Ray Hayes, Chris Linke, Jay Pennington, Barbara Sprunger, PRC Digital Media, WTLV-TV, Jacksonville, Florida, "The Green Monster – It Came From The River" 

The producers of this 30-minute program took an extremely unconventional approach, using a 1950's horror movie style to highlight a severe algae problem in Jacksonville's St. Johns River. Judges found the approach filled with potential to reach an audience that environmental journalism normally doesn't. Further, the judges found the focus not just on the problem but also on common-sense solutions commendable.

SECOND PLACE: Bruce Rheins, Jerry Bowen, The CBS Evening News, "Alaska/Arctic"

This entry demonstrates the lifeblood of environmental journalism: high-quality beat reporting. Using several visual locations in Alaska, CBS News correspondent Jerry Bowen and producer Bruce Rheins successfully showed the stunning costs of climate change to our planet. By using well-crafted visuals and top-notch storytelling this team achieved the highest standard for television journalism.

THIRD PLACE: Lynn Kosek Walker, Michael Budd, Fred Ehmann, Paul Horvath, Aubrey Kauffman, Scott Neall, Jeff Reisly, Janice Selinger, Bob Szuter, NJN Public Television, "Turning the Tide"

The stunning visual quality of this documentary made interesting subject matter special. Showing the hidden beauty of wetlands in the middle of New Jersey's most notorious industrial area, this was an eye-opener told with gorgeous video and exceptional narration.


Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Print


FIRST PLACE: Ken Weiss, Los Angeles Times, "AlteredOceans" 

From its opening sentence, Weiss's account of global seas devolving into a slop of primitive muck under devastating human influence sizzles with fresh details and pungent images. The combination of sharp analysis, riveting anecdotes and jarring quotations — "the rise of slime" is sure to become a catchphrase for the oceans' ecological demise — promises to elevate this work into the canon of environmental journalism.

SECOND PLACE: Spencer Hunt, The Columbus Dispatch, "Back in Black"

Diving into the murky world of coal, Hunt gives readers a clear-eyed assessment of political and environmental issues surrounding the growth of Ohio coal-mining operations. Using clean and effective language and graphics, the three-day series explains the environmental mess left by decades-old mining operations — and how the state is ill-equipped to handle it. And although Ohio coal production had declined for 20 years, it is now on the upswing — making this series timely and relevant for Ohio readers.

THIRD PLACE: Judy Pasternak, Los Angeles Times, "Blighted Homeland"

Pasternak takes scattered historical accounts and tribal stories and, by leveraging federal records, weaves a detailed and heartbreaking account of uranium contamination among the Navajo. Her fluid narrative lays out the horrible personal health consequences as well as the U.S. government's decades of indifference.


Outstanding Online Reporting 


FIRST PLACE: Bill Hogan, Robert Brodsky, Lisa Fetta, Gail Gibson, Josh

An outstanding online investigation of land-use ballot initiatives that could have radically changed land-use and environmental regulations in five Western states. The team did a splendid job of using Internet tools to integrate an extensive financial investigation, interviews and analysis that uncovered the links between the initiatives and a single wealthy activist.

SECOND PLACE: Michael Burnham, Kelly Thompson, Monica Trauzzi, Greenwire, "Sustainable Design: The Growing Green Movement"

A wide-ranging look at the under-reported topic of green building that stretches from Manhattan's skyscrapers to Seattle's homes and neighborhoods. Burnham and colleagues combined in-depth reporting with video and interactive presentations to flesh out a timely portrait of the build environment – the world's most energy-intensive economic sector.


Outstanding Small Market Reporting, Print


FIRST PLACE: Bruce Ritchie, Glenn Beil, Jennifer Portman, John Roberge, The Tallahassee Democrat, "Saving Our Springs" 

The goal of top quality environmental journalism is to present a clear, balanced case to educate the community and inspire action to correct a harmful problem. The Democrat pulled out all the quality journalistic stops and its community won.

SECOND PLACE: Tim Thornton, The Roanoke Times, "Mountaintop Removal"

This is what environmental reporting is all about. Mr. Thornton takes a complex topic of importance to the region, clearly explains it with balance and enhances the package with graphics and the testimony of experts and ordinary residents of SEJournal Society of Environmental Journalists P.O. Box 2492 Jenkintown, PA 19046 Address Service Requested First-Class Mail U.S. Postage Paid Portland, OR Permit No. 4628

THIRD PLACE: Lee van der Voo, Lake Oswego Review

This newspaper and reporter took on some of the wealthiest and powerful in uncovering sewage and mineral pollution in a lake exempt from EPA scrutiny. Sources made fact gathering as difficult and nerve wracking as possible, but the story was reported — and the state ordered a fix. 


Outstanding Story, Radio 


FIRST PLACE: Tamara Keith, The California Report (aired statewide), "Mule Creek Prison"

This tightly focused, engaging story reveals that California's overcrowded prisons are violating water-quality laws. The reporter places one community's problems with its prison into a statewide context, making excellent use of public records, interviews and nat sound to support a story that also serves as a cautionary tale for the problems of explosive growth in any realm. 

SECOND PLACE: Nazanin Rafsanjani, NPR's All Things Considered, "Caspian Pollution

Rafsanjani explores a little-known angle on Iran — the pollution of the Caspian Sea and the government's modest efforts to stop the pollution. The story excels with superb writing, excellent use of nat sound and the fact that the reporter managed to tell this compelling story despite the suspicions of Iranian officials.

THIRD PLACE: Sarah McCammon, Nebraska Public Radio Network, National Public Radio's Morning Edition, "Fire on the Prairie"

In this explanatory piece, McCammon describes scientists' efforts to uncover the history of fire on the Great Plains. Excellent writing, good use of natural sound and expert storytelling make this story a winner.


Outstanding Story, Television


HONORABLE MENTION: Mara Schiavocampo, Current TV, "When the Beaches Turned Black" 

This entry deserves an honorable mention for the enterprise reporting done by the freelance journalist. According to the background information provided, the reporter traveled to the location and produced, shot and edited the story. She brought to light an environmental disaster most had never heard about and was able to show the effects on local people. The report showed how the environment can be another casualty of war, something most people don't think about. The story had good visual elements and interviews, but could have benefited from a reporter's narration.


Outstanding Student Reporting


FIRST PLACE: Julie Leibach,, "The Greenpoint Oil Spill" 

This is a fantastic piece of scholarship. It demonstrates wide-ranging research, great human touches, solid investigation and terrific relevance. This is a fine example of environmental reporting at its best. Bravo!

SECOND PLACE: Melinda Wenner,, "Food for Chickens, Poison for Man."

This report is in-depth, richly detailed and crisply written. The story combines solid science and compelling personal testimony. It is a solid, hard-hitting indictment of a very scary practice, with a disturbing relevance. Excellent work. 

THIRD PLACE: Carol Navarro, Mairin MacDonald, Michigan State University,EJ Magazine, "Who Owns The Water?"

The story exhibits very engaging writing and catches many of the subtleties and nuances of a complicated environmental issue. The tales of laws, policies and culture that are implied by this water case are vividly demonstrated and convincing. These two comprise a very skilled team.


**From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Fall 2007 issue.


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