Winners: SEJ 1st Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

The Society of Environmental Journalists named winners and finalists in its inaugural Awards for Reporting on the Environment on Thursday Oct. 10, 2002 at its annual conference in Baltimore.

Judges reported that the 257 entries were a strong field representing a diverse excellence in covering environmental topics. Reporters from nine countries, as far away as Australia, covered topics ranging from a tunnel fire in Baltimore to the Bonn climate-change negotiations. They covered health threats from dental fillings, mercury-laden fish and pipelines. They detailed intricate debates over proposed logging in Alaska, whaling, and the changing Oregon coast.

Independent judging panels named by an Awards Committee appointed by SEJ's board of directors selected winners, who got $1,000 and a trophy. The finalists, as many as four per category, received framed certificates. In all, 27 entries involving more than 50 journalists were recognized in nine categories representing print, broadcast and online reporting.

They were an impressive lot. "There was a rich feast of work," said one judge, distinguished professor Geneva Overholser of the University of Missouri.

Said Robert Braile, a judge representing the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources: "The entries were simply inspiring to read, dominated by aggressive reporting, fine writing, and in what I found most memorable, a sheer desire among so many reporters and editors to make a meaningful difference in their communities through environmental journalism. The experience of judging these entries was quite honestly poignant, reminding me why I got into this business 25 years ago."

Founded in 1990, SEJ is a lively network of journalists and academics, with more than 1,300 members in the United States, Canada and 32 other countries. Run by and for working journalists, SEJ seeks to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental reporting. In addition to SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment, SEJ programs and services include annual and regional conferences; daily EJToday news service; quarterly SEJournal; biweekly TipSheet; freedom of information WatchDog Project; diversity program including Latin America initiative; members-only listservs; mentoring program; gatekeeper project and other special initiatives.

The judges, who included veteran journalists such as Overholser and CNN environment-unit guru Peter Dykstra, were asked to select works representing excellence in covering environmental topics. The panels picked winners in eight categories, but declined to award first place in the broadcast deadline-reporting category. The judges included: Len Ackland, University of Colorado; Emilia Askari, Detroit Free Press; David Baron, author; Robert Braile, Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources; and Jayne Bruns, ABC News. Also, Sharon Collins, CNN Headline News; Jeffrey Dvorkin, National Public Radio; Peter Dykstra, CNN; John Faherty, The Arizona Republic/KPNX; Noel Grove, freelance journalist and author; Erin Hayes, ABC News; and Paul Irvin, Radio and Television News Directors Foundation. And, Randy Lee Loftis, Dallas Morning News; Peter Lundquist, Gannett Co., Inc.; Richard Manning, author; Betsy Marston, High Country News; Geneva Overholser, University of Missouri; Manuel Perez,; Deborah Potter, NewsLab; Steve Ross, Columbia University; Bob Thomas, Loyola University; and Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute.

The SEJ Awards Committee selected the judges and enforced the rules set initially by the SEJ board. The panel was chaired by SEJ board members Perry Beeman of The Des Moines Register and Natalie Pawelski of CNN (now a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University). Other committee members were: Amy Gahran, online content consultant; George Homsy, radio and print freelancer; Peter Lord, Providence Journal; Mike Mansur, Kansas City Star; and Tom Meersman, Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

And the winners are...
Outstanding Deadline Reporting, Broadcast
Outstanding Feature Reporting, Print
Outstanding Small Market Coverage, Print
Outstanding Deadline Reporting, Print
Outstanding Series, Print
Outstanding Feature Reporting, Broadcast
Outstanding Program or Series, Broadcast
Outstanding Online Coverage
Outstanding Small Market Coverage, Broadcast

Outstanding Deadline Reporting, Broadcast (no winner)

Vince Patton, Terry Renteria, Scott Williams and Mike Galinamus
KGW-TV, Portland, OR
"Klamath Basin drought"

Judges' comments: "The team from KGW-TV deserves credit for tracking a continuing environmental story of local interest that developed well outside its immediate viewing area. The day-of-air stories submitted were all well produced, making excellent use of sound and video."

Outstanding Feature Reporting, Print

Scott Harrison Streater
Gannett News Corp
Pensacola (Florida) News Journal
"Hidden Hazard: A look at our environment's effect on our health"

Judges' comments: "We were all impressed with the variety, depth and consistent quality of the stories submitted by Scott Streater of the Pensacola News Journal. We gave him high marks for the way he placed local environmental problems in historical and national context. One of Scott's stories helped secure $1.7 million to study the health implications of pollution in the Pensacola area. We commend him for that and for taking top prize in this category."

Jeannette Batz
Riverfront Times, St. Louis, MO
"The Right to Answers"
Questions about whether toxic pollution caused deaths of babies near Weldon Spring.

Judges' comments: "Jeanette Batz of the Riverfront Times produced a compelling story about the impact of pollution in a St. Louis suburb."

Scott Sonner
The Associated Press
4 stories: "Western Wars," "Kitty Litter Mine," "Logging—Dead or Alive," "Sage Grouse"

Judges' comments: "Scott Sonner of the Associated Press' Reno bureau showed great reporting dexterity in the four tight, easy-to-read pieces he submitted."

Sara Shipley
The (Louisville) Courier-Journal
"Transpark: Boon or bust for Bowling Green area?"

Judges' comments: "Sara Shipley of Louisville's Courier Journal covered every angle and nailed all the political connections in her story about a proposed airport and commercial development."

Kenneth Weiss and John Johnson
Los Angeles Times
Collection of articles on controversy over the fate of coastal lands and landowners' use of a loophole to drive up prices.

These reporters started publishing stories on the fate of coastal lands in July 2001. Said the judges: "By Oct. 14, 2001, Gov Gray Davis had signed into law a measure to close the loophole exploited by real estate speculators to drive up the price of coastal land."

Outstanding Small Market Coverage, Print

Paula Dobbyn
Anchorage Daily News
Series: "Native Logging: A clear-cut legacy"

Judges' comments: "This provocative series, months in the making, has implications that resonate beyond the issue of Native logging in Alaska to touch, and shape, our national conversation on race, class, culture and the environment."

John Manuel
North Carolina Insight
"The Aftermath of Hurricane Floyd: Lessons Learned and Not Learned"

Judges' comments: "— for his exhaustive yet eminently readable post-mortem."

Scott Streater
Pensacola (Florida) News Journal
"Hidden Hazard: A look at our environment's effect on our health"

Judges' comments: "— for professional and comprehensive stories about his community's environment — a rare service to his readers, the planet and the First Amendment."

Hal Clifford
High Country News, Paonia, Colorado

Judges' comments: "— for his cover story on coalbed methane development in Wyoming and other areas of the rural West, a clearly written account that makes us understand the significance of a new kind of gas drilling that is reshaping the West."

Jondi Gumz
Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel

Judges' comments: "— for her investigative reporting and three-part series on the gasoline additive MTBE, which has leaked from underground tanks and threatens to contaminate wells and groundwater."

Outstanding Deadline Reporting, Print

Team: Heather Dewar, David Michael Ettlin, Del Quentin Wilber, Marcia Myers and Michael James
The Baltimore Sun
Tunnel fire coverage

Judges' comments: When a freight train hauling hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire in a tunnel under downtown Baltimore in July 2001, the staff of The Baltimore Sun responded with speed and utter professionalism. Their coverage was thorough, well written, informative and clear. "The first-day lead story by David Michael Ettlin and Del Quentin Wilber told the dramatic tale of the derailment and its far-reaching impact on the city. Second-day coverage by Heather Dewar and Marcia Myers developed the story further, providing readers with frightening background on how many trains with toxic materials regularly pass through the city. Michael James' third-day story continued to unravel fresh details of the accident and its aftermath. In sum, the Sun's staff provided an impressive example of journalistic teamwork at its best."

Claire Miller
The Age and The Sydney Morning Post
Sydney, Australia
Bonn negotiations coverage

Judges' comments: "Miller did a masterful job as a one-person dynamo covering last year's international negotiations on climate change in Bonn, Germany. The subject was complex, the developments fast breaking, and the hours grueling. Miller met those challenges and more, pulling a pair of all-nighters and napping on the lawn behind the media center to produce a string of strong reports that told people in Australia why they should care about carbon sinks and emissions targets."

Outstanding Series, Print

Jeff Nesmith and Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
The Austin American-Statesman
"Pipelines: The Invisible Danger"

Judges' comments: "America's energy policy stirs impassioned debates in Washington and Alaska, but for many people, the reliance on oil and gas has a much more immediate consequence: leaks, fires and explosions from faulty pipelines that deliver petroleum and chemical products across the continent. At The Austin American-Statesman, reporters Ralph K.M. Haurwitz and Jeff Nesmith exposed a pipeline regulatory system that seems more concerned with cozying up to industry than in enforcing the law. They found unreported spills, spotty record-keeping and, most importantly, destroyed lives in a series that brought many calls for reform. In a category filled with extraordinary work by journalists around the country, Haurwitz and Nesmith's gutsy reporting, straightforward writing and attention to detail on a life-and-death topic stood out."

Tom Knudson
The Sacramento Bee
"Environment, Inc."

Judges' comments: "Celebrating the anniversary of Earth Day with a series called "Environment, Inc." is hardly the expected thing to do — especially for a newspaper and a reporter as respected among environmentalists as The Sacramento Bee and Tom Knudson. But environmentalism's changes over the past three decades are an important public-policy story, and Knudson has told it beautifully. Powerful, fair, rich with specifics yet broad in scope, this series may not save lives but it could save the public dollars that would otherwise be ill-spent. "Environment, Inc.," makes unmistakably clear how closely the movement has come to resemble the big guns of business and government whose excesses it set out to curb."

Ben Raines
Mobile Register
Mercury in fish

Judges' comments: "The Register's compelling examination of mercury levels in fish and other seafood is the very model of how a gutsy small newspaper and a tenacious reporter can turn out groundbreaking work of national importance. Ben Raines' thorough, digging reporting, coupled with the Register's dedication of ample resources, made a powerful contribution to environmental awareness and to the health and safety of fish lovers."

Outstanding Feature Reporting, Broadcast

Guy Hand and Chris Ballman
Living On Earth / World Media Foundation
"Tongass National Forest": Part I, Part II (text only)

Judges' comments: "TV journalists are often challenged by telling a story with very, very few words. Print journalists are sometimes constrained by black-and-white type, and no striking pictures to get the point across. Radio journalists are blessed with both challenges. The "Living on Earth" team of Guy Hand and Chris Ballman, using natural sound and strong writing, overcame those obstacles in telling multiple stories about the biological wealth, the political struggle, and the human conflict over Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The voices of loggers, wildlife biologists, and wildlife all added strong color and context to the pieces. Their two-part series had no visible weaknesses — so much so that the pictures were as good as the writing. And that's no small accomplishment for radio."

Scott Miller
KING-TV, Seattle, Washington
Body-of-work entry

Judges' comments: "Runner-up Scott Miller's body-of-work entry consisted of four stories which had nothing to do with each other — except that they were all of consistent, well-produced, journalistically strong quality. Miller's stories included "Singing to Whales" ostensibly about a merry band of musicians who hold concerts for the orcas of Puget Sound. The story's real point is that the orcas are disappearing (and not because of the singing). "Computer Recycling" was a strong example of how environmental investigative reporting from a well-supported TV newsroom can blossom into a story with international impact. "Toxic Timbers" and "Genetic Salmon" were two entries about nationwide problems whose impacts reached Miller's Seattle-area viewers."

Outstanding Program or Series, Broadcast

Vince Patton and Terry Renteria
KGW-TV, Northwest News, Channel 8 Portland
"Oregon's Changing Coast"

Judges' comments: "The judges were thrilled to see local television stations covering issues of depth and significance. We especially honor KGW for its work on the shifting Northwest coastline and the solid scientific underpinning on which KGW build their stories."

Robin White
Piece first aired on KUSP-FM, Santa Cruz
"Giving Back the Owens"

Judges' comments: "We honor Robin White for taking on the monumental and lonely job of traveling a vital but little understood waterway."

Gary Strieker
Japan Series

Judges' comments: "Gary Strieker taught us something new. Through his reporting we heard Japanese voices telling us their points of view about whaling, ivory-carving and tortoise shell harvesting in ways that American media seldom include on the air. By hearing those voices we can begin to understand that the American views, while sometimes strongly and reasonable held, are not the only voices to consider in environmental policy."

Dan Callahan, Randy Meier, Lorri Burchett, Gail Brown, Jon Menell
KSTP-TV, St. Paul
"Oilfield of Dreams"

Art Rascon, Dave Strickland, Rob McJannet, John Mubarak, Paul McKenna
KTRK-TV, Houston
"Battle Over Arctic Oil"

Judges' comments: KSTP and KTRK took on a huge national story in a way that the judges wish national media would consider. Both local stations traveled to the Arctic to help their viewers understand what is at stake with the Bush administration's proposal to allow drilling in a national wildlife area. Both stations listened to a wide range of voices for and against the idea. The efforts demanded a substantial corporate investment, an impressive investment of airtime and personal sacrifice for the crews who traveled in difficult circumstances to deliver the stories. Both entries included first rate production. The judges especially liked KSTP's useful graphics that explained how large the drilling area is compared to local counties. KSTP also included revealing graphics that helped the viewer understand how several wells could be drilled from one oil platform footprint.

Outstanding Online Coverage

Francesca Lyman
MSNBC on the Internet
"Your Environment" columns on Trade Center attacks, dental fillings, dairy products

Judges' comments: "Well-written, thorough reporting that presents environmental issues in a manner that was accessible and compelling for readers. Lyman consistently relates issues to people and everyday life, giving the reports more personal impact for readers. Her reports on the environmental effects of the September 11 attacks on New York City provided a detailed, on-the-ground account of a potential health-threat to thousands of people. In addition, her reports on such varied issues as dental fillings, dairy products, and the benefits of gardens make for informative and thought-provoking reading."

Devra Davis, Emily Mathews, David Nemtzow, Stephen Schneider and Kathryn Schulz
Grist Magazine package examining the book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lomborg

Judges' comments: "Grist's notable assembly of skeptical experts provided for an engaging read that offered readers a different perspective on Lomborg's book from what could be found in most of the mainstream media."

Bill Dietrich, Russell Sparkman, Denise Rocco, Marion Blue and Gary Braasch
"Mercury Rising: Bearing Witness to Climate Change"

Judges' comments: "Good use of Web features added significantly to Bill Dietrich's report on his journey into Costa Rica's Monteverde tropical cloud forest. It was among the few entries in the online category to use layered online presentation, multimedia and interactive features. Good use of Web visuals and audio, in addition to Dietrich's thoughtful and insightful dispatches from the journey, as well as interactive features allowing for questions to the team, provided for an enhanced experience for the user. The package would have had more impact if there had been accompanying third-person reports and issue analysis as well as first-person accounts of the expedition."

Outstanding Small Market Coverage, Broadcast

Heather King
KOMU-TV, Columbia, MO
"Herculaneum (Mo.) Lead"
Lead-smelter pollution

King detailed the debate over pollution from a Doe Run Co. lead smelter in Herculaneum, south of St. Louis.

Judges' comments: "In a series of two reports, Heather King put a human face on an environmental problem that has bedeviled a local community for decades. The stories demonstrate the results of solid reporting and substantial effort on a story of significance that was not easy to tell on television."

Back to the Top

The Society of Environmental Journalists
Beth Parke, executive director
P.O. Box 2492 Jenkintown, PA 19046
Telephone: (215) 884-8174 Fax: (215) 884-8175

© 1994 Society of Environmental Journalists
The SEJ logo is a registered trademark ® of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Neither the logo nor anything else from the domain may be reproduced without written consent of the Society of Environmental Journalists.