Winners: SEJ 6th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

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 are the subjects of the best environmental journalism of 2006-2007, according to judges in the sixth annual contest sponsored by the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Twenty-seven entries in 10 categories were designated 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.

Winners were revealed and finalists honored September 5, 2007, 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 and a trophy.

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.

And the winners, listed alphabetically by category, are...
Kevin Carmody Award For Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print
Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print
Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Radio
Outstanding Beat/In-Depth Reporting, Television
Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Print
Outstanding Online Reporting
Outstanding Small-Market Reporting, Print
Outstanding Story, Radio
Outstanding Story, Television
Outstanding Student Reporting

Kevin Carmody Award For Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print

1st Place:
Craig Pittman, Matthew Waite
St. Petersburg Times
When Dry is Wet
Presto: Convert a Mine into a Wetland
The 'Bad Apple' of Wetlands Banking
I'm a Public Official (and Ecobank Rep)

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
Sara Shipley Hiles, Marina Walker Guevara
Mother Jones
Cities of Lead/Lead Astray

Judges' comments: "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."

3rd Place:
David Danelski, Jennifer Bowles, Duane Gang, Cassie MacDuff, Devona Wells
The Press-Enterprise
The Big Squeeze

Judges' comments: "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 in to a complex story."

Outstanding Beat Reporting, Print

1st Place:
Jane Kay
San Francisco Chronicle
A Move to Ease Pesticide Laws
Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?
Mono Lake Rising and Healthy
100 Years, 100 Million Acres of Land Saved
Toxic Toys
Spring Gets out of Sync
Consequences of a Rising Bay

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
Susan Gordon
The News Tribune of Tacoma, WA
Foss Waterway Dirty Again?
Who Will Pay for Asarco's Mess?
A Bargain at $288,750? Buyer Beware
Atmospheric Pollution Travels to Mountains
Salmon Health Warning Nears
Millions Gone with the Tide
Study Finds Chemicals in Biosolids

Judges' comments: "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."

3rd Place:
Tom Knudson
The Sacramento Bee
Fires/Managing Forests

Judges' comments: "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

1st Place:
Bob Edwards, Andy Danyo, Geoffrey Redick
XM Satellite Radio XMPR Channel 133
Exploding Heritage

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
John Ryan
KUOW-94.9FM, Seattle
As the Sound Churns

Judges' comments: "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."

3rd Place:
Jim Handman, Jim Lebans, Bob McDonald
CBC Radio, Quirks & Quarks
Biofuels: Greening Our Energy Further

Judges' comments: "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

1st 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

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
Bruce Rheins, Jerry Bowen
The CBS Evening News
Alaska/Artic01: Global Warming Imperils Alaska Village
Alaska/Artic02: Miami, New Orleans Face Warming Threat

Judges' comments: "This entry demonstrates the lifeblood of environmental journalism: high quality beat reporting. Using several very 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."

3rd 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

Judges' comments: "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

1st Place:
Ken Weiss
Los Angeles Times
Altered Oceans

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
Spencer Hunt
The Columbus Dispatch
Back in Black

Judges' comments: "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."

3rd Place:
Judy Pasternak
Los Angeles Times
Blighted Homeland

Judges' comments: "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

1st Place:
Bill Hogan, Robert Brodsky, Lisa M Fetta, Gail Gibson, Josh Israel, Jim Morris
Center for Public Integrity's
Takings Initiatives Accountability Project

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
Michael Burnham, Kelly Thompson, Monica Trauzzi
Sustainable Design: The Growing Green Movement

Judges' comments: "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

1st Place:
Bruce Ritchie, Glenn Beil, Jennifer Portman, John Roberge
The Tallahassee Democrat
Saving Our Springs

Judges' comments: "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."

2nd Place:
Tim Thornton
The Roanoke Times
Moving the Mountains: An Exploration of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Judges' comments: "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 the affected area."

3rd Place:
Lee van der Voo
Lake Oswego Review
Beneath the Surface
Pesticide Use Reporting System — Minus Teeth — Begins in '07

Judges' comments: "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

1st Place:
Tamara Keith
The California Report (aired statewide)
Overcrowded Prisons' Wastewater Poses Environmental Hazard (Mule Creek Prison)

Judges' comments: "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. "

2nd Place:
Nazanin Rafsanjani
NPR's All Things Considered
Iran's Pollution Worries Come by Air and Water

Judges' comments: "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."

3rd Place:
Sarah McCammon
Nebraska Public Radio Network, National Public Radio's Morning Edition
Park Service Maps the Great Plains Fire History

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

Outstanding Story, Television

Honorable Mention:
Mara Schiavocampo
Current TV
When the Beaches Turned Black

Judges' comments: "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

1st Place:
Julie Leibach
Black Mayonnaise: The Greenpoint Oil Spill

Judges' comments: "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!"

2nd Place:
Melinda Wenner
Food for Chickens, Poison for Man

Judges' comments: "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."

3rd Place:
Carol Navarro, Mairin MacDonald
Michigan State University, EJ Magazine
Who Owns the Water?

Judges' comments: "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."

The Society of Environmental Journalists is an association of more than 1,300 journalists, educators and students. SEJ is run by journalists and for journalists. Its mission is to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy and visibility of environmental reporting.

SEJ offers unique educational programs and services for working journalists, educators and students, including annual and regional conferences; daily EJToday news service; quarterly SEJournal; biweekly TipSheet and other publications; SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment; members-only listservs; mentoring program; website-based resources; and a lively membership network of journalists and academics.

Previous winners: 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006

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