SEJ Day 4: Engagement and Collaboration in Environmental Journalism

Hello SHE-J stalwarts,

We’ve officially completed my fourth and final day of the conference.

I am eager to share what I have gotten from my final activities. So buckle up for the last leg of this blog!

In the morning, I went to a panel on environmental engagement reporting moderated by freelance journalist Dalyah Jones.

The speakers included Mekdela Mascal of Covering Climate Now, Carly Berlin of WWNO, and Yvette Cabrera of Grist.

Left to right: Carly Berlin, Yvette Cabrera, Mekdela Mascal, Dalyah Jones

The panelists focused on the behind-the-scenes work of engagement reporting. Mascal said that engagement stories often don’t start with traditional news pitches or structure. She said engagement reporting can be as broad as providing information to a community online, or connecting them to a resource.

Mascal added that her outlet in California has created “open newsrooms” via events at libraries and town halls. “If you can invite people to be in the workplace, along with the process, it alleviates some of that pressure [on the reporter],” Mascal said.

The panelists also emphasized taking advantage of funding opportunities to bolster engagement reporting. Berlin highlighted the support of the Pulitzer Center in her reporting on Lake Charles’ hurricane recovery. She said the organization helped her organize online panels and enter classrooms.

“Even just seeing how people frame the questions they have, helped me understand how I needed to frame the report,” Berlin said.

Later, I went to a session on climate collaborations moderated by Mizzou’s very own Sara Shipley Hiles! The panel featured John Upton of Climate Central, Kezia Setyawan of WWNO, Emily Holden of Floodlight, and Lyndsey Gilpin of Southerly.

Left to right: Lyndsey Gilpin, Kezia Setyawan, Emily Holden, John Upton, Sara Shipley Hiles

The conversation touched on various types of journalistic collaborations, and what must be considered in establishing them.

Holden said that with national collaborators, finding local reporters to pitch is key. Floodlight wants to avoid parachuting into a community. She says a first ‘scoping’ call is crucial to establish the ground rules and vision for a collaboration.

Gilpin added that community trust is the basis for the most impactful journalism collaborations. She says that what made Southerly’s collaboration with Setyawan so effective was Setyawan’s day-to-day connection with indigenous Pointe-au-Chien residents in Houma.

“Local news outlets do have more trust in their communities,” Gilpin said. “And that is something we often look for, being regional and new.”

After lunch, I went on a mini-tour of eco-friendly design at Rice University with Sustainability Director Richard Johnson. Walking the quad, we talked about Rice’s commitment to green res-life.

Johnson said the school’s awakening to environmental issues started with a dining hall experiment in 2008, where they removed trays to reduce food waste.

Rice University’s South Servery, where the trayless dining experiment began!

Now, Rice administrators are working on an expanded residence hall (Hanszen College) that will have a masked timber frame. Johnson says that using this southern pinewood frame will reduce the carbon footprint of construction by 50%. The building will be completed in late 2022.

The incomplete Hanszen College expansion wing at Rice University, with masked timber frame showing.

I hope you have enjoyed reading along with my time at the conference, and learned something that can spark your environmental reporting. Be well, everyone!


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