environmental journalism

Rita Hibbard's picture

New pathways to collaboration

The winner of the 2010 Knight Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism plans to donate part of his prize winnings to InvestigateWest as a kickstart to a potential collaborative reporting project between his current employer and the regional investigative group he helped start.

Lewis Kamb was an original founding member of InvestigateWest. With The News Tribune and other McClatchy newspapers now examining potential enterprise reporting partnerships, the timing is perfect for the idea to help foster such a collaborative effort, particularly with InvestigateWest.

As former editor of the investigative team at the Seattle P-I, I edited the prize-winning chain saw scouting package. As a co-founder of InvestigateWest and executive director and editor, I'm thrilled and honored at the prospect of working  with Kamb and the The News Tribune in a future project.

To my mind, such a collaboration would demonstrate how effectively the work of independent, nonprofit media can link the eyes and ears of news consumers with important, public service journalism. It amplifies the power and impact of  important, public service journalism in the current economic climate, a tough one for news organizations regionally and nationally. As InvestigateWest has demonstrated in the past, such partnerships can be exciting opportunities to make a difference.

Kamb's announcement comes at this year’s Knight-Risser Prize Symposium, “The Crisis in Environmental Watchdog Journalism,” to be held Nov. 17 at Stanford University. The symposium, which annually seeks to forge active collaborative links between environmental research, education, journalism, and policy-making, will examine the state of environmental watchdog journalism amid the crisis in the news industry.

Byline: 

EPA allows experts to comment on oil spill; this looks like progress

We believe in giving credit where credit is due. And so after our recent outrage about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's news conferences where reporters were forbidden to identify government officials who briefed journalists, we today were pleasantly surprised by an EPA news conference that's back in the real world.

Specifically, when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did a phone-in presser on the use of dispersants at BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the notice specifically listed the names and titles of lower-ranking EPA staffers who would appear and provide information to the public: Paul Anasta, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development; and Dana Tulis, acting director of EPA's Office of Emergency Management. Jane Lubchenco, the Department of Commerce undersecretary in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also was on the call, along with Dave Westerholm, director of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration.

Thank you, EPA! This is as it should be: Public officials appear at a news conference tell the journalists what they know (and who they are). Then, that information gets transmitted to the public.

Public officials who make statements to the public need to be held accountable for what they say, which can't happen when they journalists don't even know their names, as happened at the press conference last week on EPA's new rules for handling toxic coal ash. This was highlighted in an excellent story about the whole flap by Curtis Brainerd of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Let's hope today's news conference is the start of a trend.

-- Robert McClure

Obama's supposed transparency again belied by hush-hush press conference rules at EPA

Osha Gray Davidson's post on the Society of Environmental Journalists' listserv was at least one funny thing that could be written about the very unfunny way U.S. Environmental Protection Agency squelched open and honest communication with the public today:

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of  openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”
 

-- Senior administration official.

The quote, of course, is from President Obama, who issued the seemingly sweeping statement of support for government transparency shortly after taking office. As we've pointed out before, though, at least one agency is clearly failing to live up to this mandate: The U.S. EPA.

Today the agency, for the second time in three months, held a news conference on a major announcement and ordered reporters not to reveal the names of EPA officials addressing the public through the news media.

What is the meaning of this? Who are they afraid of?

The first incident happened when U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson held a news conference upon the release of the Obama administration's proposed annual budget in early February. Reporters who phoned in, their phones on mute so they could not object, were told that any EPA assistant administrators or others who spoke were "on background," meaning reporters were free to quote these officials, but not to identify them.Journalists were told if they stayed on the call or at the news conference they were agreeing to these rules. Is this what democracy looks like?

AOL brings us a groundbreaking series on the dangers of nanotechnology

Folks, do yourself a favor and walk, don't run -- OK, just click through -- to see the important new investigative project on the dangers of nanotechnology, and what a pitiful job our government is doing monitoring this technology we now find in our medicine, beauty aids, soaps, sunscreens, clothes and food -- the very stuff we put on and in our bodies.

Nano, it's turning out, often appears to have serious health consequences when scientists look into it -- even causing harmful changes in DNA. Serious stuff, my friends. But it's proliferating at a rate that far eclipses researchers' ability to gauge the technology's danger. And it's being unleashed on America's consumers with almost no regulation.

Here's a pretty good summary of the danger:

"Nanoparticles can heal, but they can also kill. Thanks to their size, researchers have found, they can enter the body by almost every pathway. They can be inhaled, ingested, absorbed through skin and eyes. They can invade the brain through the olfactory nerves in the nose.

"After penetrating the body, nanoparticles can enter cells, move from organ to organ and even cross the protective blood-brain barrier. They can also get into the bloodstream, bone marrow, nerves, ovaries, muscles and lymph nodes.
 

The series is by my former reporting partner, Andy Schneider, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes in the past and could be on his way to another. Andy's a remarkable reporter -- a godsend, really. I'm so glad to see that after getting laid off with a bunch of us from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a  year ago, he's landed where he can keep doing important journalism.

Obama administration pounds chest about transparency, but will have to better than this

The other day the Obama administration's "Chief Information Officer" -- or CIO... isn't that clever? -- was in Seattle decrying a "culture of faceless unaccountability" in government. His boast:

"This is part of the President's agenda: to make sure we’re hardwiring transparency into the culture of the federal government."

What a bunch of horse patootie.

At least that's the way Vivek Kundra's chest-beating looks from the trenches, for me and for other journalists trying to get information from the federal government, and particularly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Kundra's statement in front of a geek-heavy audience in Seattle is worth examining now because today kicks off Sunshine Week, the annual exercise in which open-government activists yap it up with fellow citizens about the importance of our democratic government being truly transparent with citizens. As a journalist, a fair amount of what I do is find out what government is up to, and tell my fellow citizens.

Now,  Kundra's statement about Obama's agenda may be correct. But I'm here to tell you, friends, that the agenda ain't trickling down to the trenches.

Want proof? In this post today I'll detail how the EPA simply failed to engage with us for a recent InvestigateWest story of great nationwide importance.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal kill enviro-news blogs – is there a need for them?

Do you enjoy reading Dateline Earth? Is there a need for environmental news blogs? I hope the answer to both those questions is yes…. but if not I’d like to hear from you. Tell me: Is this a worthwhile enterprise? Because there are a lot of stories we’d like to get to out there – documents to read, people to call, data to analyze. All that takes time, and writing Dateline Earth costs me time.

Lest you think I’m fishing for compliments, I should point out that my inquiry is prompted by a post today on Columbia Journalism Review’s Observatory blog discussing how the Christian Science Monitor and The Wall Street Journal have discontinued their enviro-news blogs.

Both of these publications have storied histories and high journalistic standards.So CJR’s Curtis Brainerd checked in with editors at both sites, asking: whassup?

The answers are, it goes without saying, complex. The WSJ didn’t engage with Brainerd, which is a real shame, because a lot of us out here would like to know what they were thinking.

At the Monitor, sadly, the answer mostly seems to be that they just don’t have the horses any more.

A series of e-mails from Monitor Editor John Yemma to Brainerd offered that the environment is no longer a specialty – so true! Reporters on the city hall and business and feature beats, to name just a few, need to be familiar with what is sure to be the story of the century.

But Yemma also said that the Monitor’s Bright Green blog – the publication’s very first blog, instituted back when the copy had to go through the paper's cumbersome computer editing process for print stories – was discontinued in part because writer Eoin O’Carroll is busy doing something other than environmental journalism:

Obama's State of the Union punts on climate change... but what did you expect?

rm iwest mugWell, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: "Pretty weak tea." (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)

Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:

 That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign -- think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that's what scientists are saying we'll need.

He did it again tonight. The president -- wisely -- started out talking about jobs or, as we've put it before, "Fighting climate change = ending the recession." He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap'n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won't be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama's presidency.

But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.

Off to have a blast in Lubbock with SEJ board

rm iwest mugI didn't even get through all my back e-mail left over my jam-packed week of learning at the Knight Digital Media Center, and yet I'm headed for the airport. I'm off to Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech University, where I'm due at a meeting of the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Texas Tech is considering hosting one of SEJ's excellent annual conferences, and it turns out the university has some acumen in the world of environmental sciences. For instance, in my recent piece on cancer-causing substances flowing off parking lots and driveways, I noted that Texas Tech researchers help demonstrate how the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons harmed aquatic creatures in Texas streams.

So I'm eager to see what else TT has to offer. I just hope we don't hold the meeting in the chemistry department. :>)

-- Robert McClure