Thursday, August 06, 2020

Society of Environmental Journalists' annual awards include several winners with rural resonance

The Society of Environmental Journalists has announced the winners of its annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment for articles, radio broadcasts and videos released in the year through March 2020. Most categories feature winners for large and small newsrooms or circulation. The small-newsroom winners aren't necessarily rural, but their reporting has rural resonance. Click the award name for links to stories, judges' comments, and the runners-up.

The Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting went to "Unwell Water" by Kyle Bagenstose and Jenny Wagner for the Bucks County Courier Times in Pennsylvania. The judges said, "This excellent five-part series investigated the foot-dragging and legal maneuvering that has slowed cleanup of toxic firefighting chemicals around military bases. Kyle Bagenstose and Jenny Wagner's thorough reporting over an eight-month span detailed efforts by U.S. Department of Defense officials to avoid liability for cleaning up contaminated streams and aquifers. Extensively documented and well-sourced, this series shines important light on a dysfunctional regulatory process."

The award for Outstanding Beat Reporting went to "Holding the Powerful to Account for the Environment" by James Bruggers for InsideClimate News. "This entry stood out as the judge's top choice for versatility of topics, depth of reporting and skillful writing to create five very readable stories on regional environmental and energy problems and politics. Down-to-earth analysis shined a light on inadequate federal maps to predict flooding and erosion from mine runoff, flooding of coastal properties and a utility's bias in seeking to renew expensive fossil fuel contracts. James Bruggers used both grit and finesse in lining up a wide variety of sources inside and outside government. A nice human touch gave voices to coal miners, small town mayors and politicians from both parties concerned about whether a powerful senator was protecting miners' pensions and black lung payments amid the transformation of an ailing coal country. We get a sense of place in coal country. We also get an appreciation of how regulation of climate change can affect people's lives. In short, the entry showed how a beat reporter can use ingenuity and hard work to produce fresh stories that inform and are pleasurable to read."

The award for Outstanding Feature Story went to "Undone Science: When Research Fails Polluted Communities" by Nancy Averett for Undark. "This compelling and deeply personal story reveals the failure of the research community to put any significant effort into understanding the environmental plight of communities. Focused on the impact of air pollution from a coke plant in Avalon, Pennsylvania, it takes us to other communities where a lack of public information about chemical emissions may have contributed to autism, asthma and cancer. "Undone Science" is an articulate, well-researched and persuasive plea to scientists for data that acknowledges the environmental challenges facing towns, families and their children. It is a powerful reminder that for every Flint, Michigan, there are hundreds of Avalons."

The award for Outstanding Student Reporting went to "Small Farmers Wait for California's Groundwater Hammer to Fall" by Madison Pobis, Stanford University, published in Bill Lane Center for the American West blog. "The judges found this an impressive overall effort, which combined on-the-ground reporting, extensive use of archival images, videography and data to explain a technical but crucial issue looming as California tries to apportion a shrinking resource — water. The package illustrated the likely human impact on family farmers of arcane water rules, and provided a glimpse of the future as society deals with resource shortages. The writing by Madison Pobis blended the big picture with the human scale, and the videos and data made excellent use of the resources of the Bill Lane Center, government archives and data."

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