Early this year, reporter Charles Clifford went to news director Aaron Pero at KRON4 in San Francisco and suggested that he create an environment beat at the TV station.
Mr. Clifford had been a general-assignment reporter for the better part of a decade. Inspired by the rash of press releases and news stories about everything from biodiesel to dying polar bears to solar energy—not to mention the perceived interest in the topics in the Bay Area—he wanted to specialize.
Mr. Pero gave him the green light, which resulted in “The Green Scene With Charles Clifford,” a daily report on an environmental topic in the news, along with a robust micro-site on www.kron.com.
“The environment is a very broad topic in which one can find many angles,” Mr. Clifford said. “One of the biggest is water issues. We didn’t have a lot of rain this year, and there are a lot of voluntary water restrictions that impact our viewers.”
Another big water story recently was a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council that named Venice State Beach in Half Moon Bay as one of the most polluted beaches in the nation and one of the two worst in the state of California.
Mr. Clifford, who shoots and edits his own video, went to the location and found a huge pool of standing water filled with what he called “green muck,” as well as thousands of birds. He showed the video to the San Mateo County Health Department, and asked for some answers. He was told pollution levels were high because the birds that flock to the area create a bacterial stew, and that the birds come because the beach is mostly devoid of human inhabitants. Because there are apparently no long-term solutions in place, it’s a story he has calendared for follow-ups.
Because there are scientific aspects to many of his reports, Mr. Clifford has had to educate himself and his audience. Yet his biggest challenge is a familiar one: not enough time, either in the day or on the broadcast, where his pieces run about a minute and a half.
“A lot of environmental stories have many details, like why something is contaminated, who is paying for the cleanup and who is affected. I have a limited amount of time,” said Mr. Clifford. “If it’s a big enough story, they will give me an extra day, but otherwise, time limitations make it difficult to try and get the point across and provide much information to viewers, and to get it done in an eight-hour workday.”
These limitations are not an issue on the station’s Web site, where Mr. Clifford’s stories are posted along with links to related information and resources for viewers on topics labeled “environment, air, water, energy.” Also on the site is a way to track proposed environmental legislation in California’s legislature. He will on occasion post raw footage of interviews he conducts to provide more in-depth information, and he is fond of posting on YouTube to reach an audience outside of the Bay Area.
“The station has really embraced this and given me a lot of support,” he said. “I get story ideas from colleagues at work and those I meet in the field, plus more viewer e-mails and responses than I ever did before.”
In the future, Mr. Clifford plans a weekly podcast on the environment and, when he finds the time, plans to beef up his blog. “I feel that more video and information on the Internet is the treasure trove,” he said.
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