Winners: SEJ 3rd Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

The Society of Environmental Journalists lauded the past year's excellence in environmental reporting on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2004, as it announced winners of its 3rd annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment.

Some of the 2004 SEJ Award winners.
A handful of the 2004 SEJ Award winners were on hand in Pittsburgh, but you didn't have to be present to win. Photo by Orna Izakson.

During an awards ceremony at the Society's annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, SEJ recognized outstanding work in nine print, broadcast and online categories. Winners were selected by independent judges from among 253 entries submitted by reporters from throughout North America. Topics covered spanned the globe, from the search for signs of global warming in Antarctica to pollution in a municipal lake in Texas and to the changing environment and lifestyles of Georgia's traditional communities.

The number, quality and diversity of entries vying for this year's awards signaled a renewed interest in environmental journalism after a year in which the nation's attention — as well as the news media's — had been focused on terrorism and war.

First-place winners, chosen by independent panels of judges, received $1,000 and a trophy, while second- and third-place finishers collected framed certificates. In all, 24 entries involving at least 38 journalists were honored for outstanding in-depth and beat reporting on the environment in newspapers, and on radio, television and the Internet, as well as in small-market media.

And the winners are...
Outstanding Beat Reporting — Print
Outstanding Beat Reporting — Radio
Outstanding Beat Reporting — Television
Outstanding In-Depth Reporting — Print
Outstanding In-Depth Reporting — Radio
Outstanding In-Depth Reporting — Television
Outstanding Small-Market Reporting — Print
Outstanding Small-Market Reporting — Broadcast
Outstanding Online Reporting

Outstanding Beat Reporting — Print

Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers, Washington bureau

  1. "Heat Is On In Alaska," The (San Jose) Mercury News, August 19, 2003 (subscription): cache'd version. KR Washington Bureau version (non-subscription).
  2. "Pollution Regulation Weakens," Detroit Free Press, September 9, 2003 (non-subscription). KR Washington Bureau version.
  3. "Pollution Citations Plummet Under Bush," The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9, 2003 (subscription): cache'd version. KR Washington Bureau version.
  4. "Fewer Superfund Cleanups Under Way," The Charlotte Observer, April 18, 2003 (subscription): cache'd version. KR Washington Bureau version.
  5. "New Age for Germs," The (San Jose) Mercury News, May 13, 2003 (subscription): cache'd version; sidebar cache'd. KR Washington Bureau version; sidebar.
  6. "National Parks Face Disrepair," Duluth News Tribune, May 25, 2003: Duluth version off-line. KR Washington bureau version: "National parks face multitude of problems."
  7. "Study: Estrogen Caused Male Fish To Produce Eggs," The (San Jose) Mercury News, June 28, 2003 (subscription): cache'd version. KR Washington bureau version.

Judges' comments: For outstanding coverage of an unusually wide range of environmental topics, from the scientifically technical to the politically contentious. Borenstein's reporting tools range from the Freedom of Information Act to document lack of EPA enforcement under George W. Bush to treks into Alaska's wilderness to witness the melting of permafrost in a warming climate.

Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times
Sample stories.

Judges' comments: For his superb coverage of climate change. Revkin has consistently broken stories on this beat and found innovative ways to make the complicated science and politics of this important issue come alive. His dedication to the topic has led him out to remote research stations and back to the corridors of power.

Ray Ring
High Country News
Sample stories:

  1. "A losing battle," analysis of federal wildfire-fighting policy, May 26, 2003. Sidebars: "Firespeak catastrophe;" "History is full of big fires;" "Who should pay when houses burn?"
  2. "The West's biggest bully: Environmentalists in Montana's Flathead County make quiet progress against a 5,000-watt loudmouth," September 15, 2003. Sidebar: "Conservationists work on cooperation," how an ex-journalist turned professional conservationist works the strategy.
  3. "The big story written small," how most daily newspapers fall short covering environmental and growth issues, October 13, 2003. Sidebars: "One good example: The publisher;" "One good example: The reporter;" "Excellence," a list of some Western dailies doing good work.
  4. "Tipping the scales," how the Bush administration uses the tradition of stocking judgeships against the environmental movement, February 16, 2004. Sidebar: "Jurisdiction shopping made simple," the apparent leanings of some key federal judges in the West.

Judges' comments: For compelling and provocative coverage of Western natural-resource conflicts. Ring's stories are sweeping in scope, befitting the West's broad canvas, and meticulous in detail, a mark of fine reporting. On topics ranging from wildfires to an anti-environmental shock jock, Ring presents fascinating insights into the region's unique blend of natural wonders and human foibles.

Outstanding Beat Reporting — Radio

Ilsa Setziol
KPCC-FM, Pasadena, CA
Lead entry piece: Reclaiming the Colorado, November 14, 2003 (abridged version)
Archived sample audio files: Rigs to Reefs, February 4, 2004; After the Fires: Saving the Wildlife of the San Bernardino Forest, January 12, 2004

Judges' comments: The judges were impressed with Ilsa's range of topics and her sure grasp of the subject. Her writing is crisp and her delivery confident. This is solid public radio science journalism that is a good balance between thoughtful reporting and radio presentation. It is accessible and never preachy.

Erik Anderson
KPBS Radio, San Diego, CA
KPBS News archives — search on "Erik Anderson" for story samples

Judges' comments: Erik's reporting shows a good grasp of the subject combined with a confident and polished delivery. He has a deep appreciation of the environmental issues that continue to affect the San Diego region.

Doug MacPherson, Radio/Print Freelance Journalist
New Hampshire Public Radio stories:

  1. "Tough Times for New Hampshire Sawmills"
  2. "A Troubling Silence On Umbagog Lake"
  3. "The Great Dump at the Great Bog"
  4. "Aquaculture in the Open Ocean"
  5. "Climate Change Becoming An Issue"
  6. "Commission Recommends Closing State Nursery"
  7. "Bluefin Quotas Penalize New England Fishermen"

Judges' comments: The judges liked Doug's quirky and unusual way of explaining complex and somewhat obscure stories. He has a unique approach to science journalism.

Outstanding Beat Reporting — Television

Ed Rodgers
New Jersey Public Broadcasting
Archived stories (Windows Media Video files)

Judges' comments: Ed Rodger's pieces display solid construction, exceptional story choice, and consistent quality. As a long time environmental reporter, he produces stories that matter in a state with a unique combination of urban, suburban, and parkland issues. He's done this with a small budget, in a non-profit setting. The people of New Jersey are well served by his work, and he is deserving of SEJ's recognition.

No 2nd or 3rd place winners in this category.

Outstanding In-Depth Reporting — Print

Tom Knudson
The Sacramento Bee
"State of Denial"

Judges' comments: A strikingly original series that invited Californians to take a look at their lifestyle support system. Traveling from the rain forests of Ecuador, where oil rigs scar the land and people, to the boreal forests of Canada, where loggers leave clear-cut swaths of destruction, Knudson made his readers eyewitnesses to the costs of their hunger for oil and timber. At the same time, Knudson turned the critical eye inward, examining the impact of The Bee's own use of vast amounts of paper. This provocative and passionate piece of journalism gave Californians — and all Americans — much to think about.

Cathy Zollo, Eric Staats, Janine Zeitlin, Jeremy Cox, Alan Scher Zagier, Chad Gillis, Dianna Smith and Gina Edwards
Naples (FL) Daily News
"Deep Trouble: The Gulf in Peril"

Judges' comments: It takes great journalistic courage for a newspaper to question its readers' whole way of life and criticize many of the industries that underpin the local economy. That's exactly what a team of Daily News reporters led by Cathy Zollo did for 15 straight days in a comprehensive series on the consequences of the declining condition of the Gulf of Mexico. In explaining the causes of the notorious "dead zones" now found in the Gulf, the team traveled as far away as the cornfields of Iowa to trace the sources of pollution that flows down the Mississippi River into the ocean. But the stories make clear that rapid and often thoughtless development in Florida is as much to blame as anything else for the sorry state of the Gulf.

David Ottaway and Joe Stephens
The Washington Post
"Big Green"

Judges' comments: A series exposing problems and abuses inside one of the country's largest and most prestigious environmental organizations. In their surprising stories, Ottaway and Stephens wrote about The Nature Conservancy's close ties with corporate polluters, its ill-fated excursions into the tourism business, real-estate development and even oil drilling, along with deals that enabled Conservancy donors to obtain questionable tax breaks while building homes on pristine land. They showed that good reporters put hard questions to the environment's friends as well as its enemies.

Outstanding In-Depth Reporting — Radio

Daniel Grossman
Radio Netherlands
"The Penguin Barometer"

Judges' comments: An in-depth treatment of global warming in narrative form, truly roaming the globe. Grossman transports listeners to the story. His subtle use of sound and his willingness to let the characters develop their own voices carries us to the woman's garden, the scientist's office, the researcher in the field and finally to the penguin's home. Each individual story weaves together a mosaic that tells the complicated tale of global warming. Grossman's visual narrative gives us just enough information to move us along without swallowing up the characters.

Cynthia Graber, Freelance Journalist
Living on Earth story: "The Ritual Uses of Mercury"

Judges' comments: Of it, the judges simply said: "It was so unexpected and very well reported."

Monica Kidd and Jim Handman
CBC Radio - Canada
"Sonic Gloom"

Judges' comments: Good use of sound, and a warning of a possible threat to fish. Creative use of sound helped move the judges to the stories. Insightful writing kept on point through complicated subjects.

Outstanding In-Depth Reporting — Television

Paul Adrian, Paul Beam and Joe Ellis
KDFW, Dallas
"Dirty Waters, Dirty Secrets"

Judges' comments: The judges were impressed by the journalists' detailed and rock solid investigative work that exposed a city government that was polluting a municipal lake while, all the while, enforcing pollution laws and levying stiff fines on citizens. The story included extensive documentation and did not shrink from holding the powerful accountable. The judges also commend KDFW management for the station's uncommon dedication of resources and airtime to this worthwhile journalism.

Ed Jahn
Oregon Public Broadcasting
"Biscuit Fire Recovery"

Judges' comments: The photography in this piece is simply outstanding. One judge said, "When I watch TV programs, at the end of the story I ask myself if it was time well-spent. I can say — this was time well spent. I learned things that I didn't know." The judges were impressed with the even-handed and complete explanation about the controversies that sprang from the fire. The story pointed out that the fire, while surprising in size and damage, may not have been the disaster that we might have imagined it was. The story explained how the fire was also important to the total health of the ecosystem.

Mark Schapiro, Camille Servan-Schreiber and Oriana Zill de Granados
PBS Frontline/World
"The Lawless Sea"

Judges' comments: This is an example of great reporting about a story of international importance. Schapiro and his crew hacked away at the thick bureaucracy that shields public attention and understanding about maritime disasters. This team peeled away the layers of secrecy to allow the public to look inside the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker that coated the Spanish coastline with toxic oil. The project showed a mind-blowing hole in regulatory authority. The story was made even more compelling by using copies of dramatic communications sent by the ship's bridge.

Outstanding Small-Market Reporting — Print

S. Heather Duncan
The (Macon, GA) Telegraph
"Tied to the Land"

Judges' comments: Her series on the cultural as well as environmental challenges facing Georgia's traditional rural communities was imaginative in concept and eloquent in execution. It employed a literary sensibility to capture the poignant heart of a changing landscape and its people.

Margaret Kriz
National Journal
"The Next Arsenic"
"Pre-emptive Exemptions"
"Security Leak"
(stories are in PDF format, requiring free Adobe Acrobat ® reader)

Judges' comments: "Kriz must write for a highly educated and aware circle of Washington insiders who require a high degree of accuracy and insight amongst the journalists they respect and read," the judges wrote. Her work helped press the administrator of the EPA to reconsider the administration's approach to mercury pollution, they noted.

Sonja Lee
Great Falls (MT) Tribune
"Asbestos Tragedy Escalates"

Judges' comments: Her comprehensive package on asbestos pollution in Montana is a shining example of how dedication and skill can elevate the impact of a small-market publication. Her work was impressive in its scope and brilliantly captured the scientific, cultural and human ramifications of asbestos pollution.

Outstanding Small-Market Reporting — Broadcast

Graham Johnson
WPTZ-TV, Burlington, VT

Judges' comments: Mr. Johnson draws you into the story and tends to find good interview subjects. He has good writing and a fun-to-watch style. All the segments raised good questions and let the viewer make up his or her own mind.

Carolyn Johnsen
Nebraska Public Radio
"Boone County" (MP3/2.53MB) and "Troubled Waters"

Judges' comments: From whooping cranes to water, these entries are solidly reported, with sound science and an easy to follow style. The panel was impressed with the in-depth treatment given to the subjects.

Don Dare, Jason Hensley and George Mitchell
WATE-TV, Knoxville, TN
"Smokies — Out of Sight"

Judges' comments: Easy to understand and lays out the connection to car exhaust, without seeming preachy. Fair — managed to incorporate TVA throughout the pieces, but never let them off the hook for the impact of their pollution.

Outstanding Online Reporting

Chris Raphael and Jason Felch
"Peru: A Gamble in the Jungle," PBS Frontline/World. videos, "High Hopes: Segakiato, Peru" and "Pipeline Problems: Shimaa, Peru".

Judges' comments: In this three-part series, the authors recount their travels in the environmentally sensitive mountains of Peru, along the path of the Camisea project — a pipeline designed to bring natural gas from the Amazon rainforest to the Pacific coast through wild and environmentally sensitive terrain. They interview inhabitants in remote areas, public and corporate officials, and pipeline workers to build up an image of a project that has distorted local culture and has not come close to being as clean as promised. The package's strength is in its on-the-scene reportage. The Web sites (PBS and The Washington Post) also make good use of Flash and streaming video.

Honorable mention:
Lisa Kerscher
Learners Online NIE

Judges' comments: For her writing for Learners Online NIE, a website supplying educational materials for primary and secondary students. The material, developed in conjunction with the Newspapers in Education program, is thought provoking and fact-packed, in contrast to the vapid, tame fare generally supplied to schoolchildren. It also invites exploration of the topics in great depth, in contrast to the typical newspaper Web site's news and features sections. Though not original reporting, judges found it "refreshing and worthy of note."

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.

Judges for the contest were selected by an Awards Committee appointed by SEJ's board of directors. To avoid any appearance of insider influence, committee members were barred from entering, as were board members, unless they had played an insignificant part in a team reporting effort. Judges were not allowed to review any categories in which they had entered.

The judges were: Charles Alexander, former international editor, TIME magazine; Rachel Ambrose, AP Radio; Eric Anderson, KPBS Radio/TVNews; Robert Braile, freelance journalist; Bob Calo, University of California Graduate School of Journalism; Neil Chase, managing editor, CBS Marketwatch; Sharon Collins, CNN Headline News; Cheryl Colopy, independent radio producer; Gino Del Guercio, Boston Science Communications; Jeffrey Dvorkin, National Public Radio; Peter Dykstra, CNN; Paul Glickman, KPCC News; Erin Hayes, ABC News; Marguerite Holloway, Scientific American; Randy L. Loftis, Dallas Morning News; Betsy Marston, High Country News; John Miller, Texas Christian University Department of Journalism; Bruce Plasket, Longmont (CO) Daily Times Call; Charles P. Quirmbach, Wisconsin Public Radio; Boyce Rensberger, Knight Science Journalism Fellowships, MIT; James V. Risser, director emeritus, Knight Fellowships, Stanford University; Jacques A. Rivard, former correspondent, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; Steve S. Ross, Columbia University; Mark Thalhimer, RTNDF, Future of News; Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute; Lynn van Luven, University of Victoria, Journalism and Creative Writing; and Jim Van Nostrand, Knight Ridder Digital.

SEJ's Awards Committee selects the judges and sets the rules for the contest each year in close consultation with the Society's board of directors. The committee's co-chairs are Vince Patton, reporter for KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon, and Tim Wheeler, reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Other panel members are: Emilia Askari, Detroit Free Press; David Baron, author and visiting scholar, Knight Center for Science and Medical Journalism, Boston University; Dina Cappiello, Houston Chronicle; Dave Poulson, assistant director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Michigan State University; Deborah Schoch, Los Angeles Times; Dale Willman, executive editor, Field Notes Productions and David Wiwchar, managing editor, Ha-Shilth-Sa, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

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