Environmental Journalism: Green Scene in Vermont

Oct 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

Global warming and climate change are sure to be top of mind among members of the Society of Environmental Journalists when they meet Oct. 25-29 for the group’s 16th annual conference in Burlington, Vt.

For one thing, with milder-than-usual temperatures in Vermont-perhaps due to global warming-the autumnal foliage remained bright and colorful weeks after the leaves should have been raked in piles on the ground. “We may get lucky with the weather,” said Beth Parke, SEJ executive director. But even if members bound for the Green Mountain State don’t see superb foliage, the programs, speakers and sessions planned for the five-day conference to discuss issues of vital importance to the environment will give them a lot to think about.

The focus of the conference is on sustainability-what is it, and how do environmental reporters cover it? “We think our plans will give members plenty of opportunity to evaluate the issue, plus you’ll get to hear the latest about other topics critical to covering environmental issues today,” said Nancy Bazilchuk, conference chair.

The conference was to commence in a new and different way on Oct. 22, with the start of the four-day Environmental Journalism Boot Camp, organized by Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. Designed for journalists who are just beginning to report on the environment as well as experienced pros who want to stay on top of the latest issues in the field, the camp will be an intense, comprehensive program delving into the environment. One of the highlights of the boot camp will be computer-assisted reporting sessions taught by instructors from the educational organization Investigative Reporters and Editors.

The Fifth Annual SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment will be announced Wednesday, Oct. 25. In the category of outstanding television reporting, large market, the finalists are “Car Inspection Corruption,” Kristen Setera, WBZ-TV, Boston; “Dirty Secret,” John Sherman and Beau Kershaw, WBAL-TV, Baltimore; and “Melting Point: Tracking the Global Warming Threat,” Miles O’Brien, CNN, Atlanta.

In the category of outstanding television reporting, small market, the finalists are “Delicate Blooms: South Florida’s Native Orchids,” Alexa Elliott, WGCU-TV, Fort Myers, Fla.; “The Dirt on Dickson County,” Demetria Kalodimos and Phil Dunaway, WSMV-TV, Nashville; and “Toxic Treatment,” Jim Parsons, Kendall Cross and Shawn Quinlan, WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh.

Vermont Gov. James Douglas, and Daniel Mark Fogel, president of the University of Vermont, are scheduled to greet members at Wednesday’s opening night ceremonies, but it will likely be Ben Cohen’s speech that will hold the crowd. Mr. Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, is going to speak about sustainable farming and pre-tax profits earmarked for social causes, among other issues, while sharing ice cream scoops with the crowd.

The SEJ has also planned events that take members out of the conference halls and hotel meeting rooms. Day tours are offered, including a bus trip to Montreal and a boat trip on Lake Champlain. The former will showcase some of the research being conducted at Montreal’s Bi%F4;dome and Botanical Gardens. The boat tour will examine water quality and the effects of invasive species. Another boat trip to the Hudson River will look at a cleanup of GE’s massive Superfund site in the riverbed.

For those who want to capture the natural beauty of the Green Mountains, SEJ offers a daylong hike on Thursday to Camel’s Hump. Registered as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, and “preserved in a primeval state” in a 19,500-acre state forest, Camel’s Hump is a natural wonder, but it has been affected by acid rain.

The nuts and bolts of writing and reporting are on the agenda for Friday, with sessions on the craft of environmental journalism. CNN’s Jeanne Meserve moderates a session called “Covering Disasters … Without Becoming One,” which deals with how environmental reporters cope with covering major catastrophes such as the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Cars, fuel and the future will be the subject of one session. Are the automobile manufacturers truly ready to “go green”? Is ethanol gas really the next big thing at the pump? Jim Motavalli, editor of E/The Environmental Magazine, and Jamie Lincoln Kitman, New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, lead the discussion with representatives of carmakers including Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Saturn.

Sparks are bound to be flying in a session called “And Now A Word From Our Critics.” Marc Morano, a staff member for Sen. James Inhofe and director of communications for the Environment and Public Works Committee, has been a vocal critic of environmental journalists on the subject of climate change. He will face off with Seth Borenstein, science correspondent for the Associated Press, and Andrew Revkin, environment reporter for The New York Times. Oregon Public Broadcasting producer Christy George will act as moderator.