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PDF Download - Society of Environmental Journalists

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SEJ President’s

SEJ President’s ReportSEJ works to hold Obama administration to its pledge of transparencyBy CHRISTY GEORGE4 SEJournal Spring 2010A confession: for a long time, I didn’t experiencethe access shutdown reported by so many other SEJmembers. I don’t know if it was the agencies Icovered, OPB’s reputation for balance, or my relativeobscurity far away from the Beltway, where so manySEJers on deadline run into brick walls when they askfor interviews with federal workers.And then came one raw, rainy December day inCorvallis, Oregon, when I arrived at the home of aneminent IPCC author.Just as I gratefully accepted a warm cup of Earl Grey tea, hiscell phone rang.On the line was a USFS communications person in Washington,D.C., who told the scientist, Ron Neilson, that he couldn’t goahead with my planned radio interview. Neilson works for the U.S.Forest Service and Oregon State University, and I had interviewedhim about climate change and forests for a TV documentary Iproduced in 2007, during the Bush administration.To be clear, I had called several days earlier and requestedpermission through appropriate channels to debrief Neilson abouta paper he was presenting the following day at the AmericanGeophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. I had explained thatmy story wouldn’t run until after he presented the paper publicly.No dice. No explanation. Just no.It didn’t shut down my story, but my listeners missed out onthe news in Neilson’s paper — and the Forest Service lost out ona chance to publicize the solid science their researchers arecontributing to the climate change field.SEJers have weighed in with similar stories of accessproblems and roadblocks, such as high fees and long waits forFreedom of Information requests, at the USFS, EPA (the EnvironmentalProtection Agency), OSHA (the Occupational Safety &Health Administration), FDA (the Food and Drug Administration)and other federal agencies.Put me in the camp that really appreciates PIOs. A goodPublic Information Officer can be tremendously helpful byproviding background information, setting up access to federalresearch sites and scheduling interviews with federal employees.But things turn sour when “sitting in” on an interview turns tochilling a scientist’s ability to respond freely.Many PIOs privately object to these restrictive practices. Andto be fair, access problems didn’t begin with Obama — or, to bereally fair, not even with Bush — but they surged right after theterror attacks of 9/11. The Bush administration took down keyenvironmental and right-to-know information from agency andcabinet department websites.Gone overnight were facts about pipelines, chemical andnuclear power plant safety and certain corporate records aboutcritical public infrastructure.The impression was clear — that the Bush administrationwas using the 9/11 attacks to give industry a pass on environmentalscrutiny.SEJ responded in March 2002, by creating the FOITask Force. Just riffle through past editions of SEJ’sWatchDog Tipsheet to see the scores of letters SEJ haswritten opposing secrecy and stiff fees for journalists’access to federal land, while also fighting to keep theFreedom of Information Act alive and functioning, andjournalists in the loop about what the government isdoing, often in concert with other journalism groups suchas SPJ (the Society of Professional Journalists), AHCJ(Association of Health Care Journalists), ASNE (the AmericanSociety of News Editors), RCFP (the Reporters Committee forFreedom of the Press), and others. That work has continued withthe Obama administration.SEJ recently wrote directly to White HouseCommunications Director Dan Pfeiffer, in an attempt to trigger anadministration-wide stand-down on press policies which “forbid,delay, or monitor contact between reporters and employees.”Muzzling public officials, or forcing them to conductinterviews with “minders” in the room, we wrote, is an attack onboth good science and good public policy.The irony, of course, is that when Barack Obama tookoffice, he vowed to increase transparency in the federalgovernment, writing that he “is committed to creating anunprecedented level of openness in Government.”http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment/We do not know how much of what’s happening is beingdriven by Obama or White House officials closest to thecenter of power, as opposed to so-called “left-behinds” from theBush administration.But there’s some cause for cautious optimism — at least, whenit comes to EPA.No agency is more central to SEJ members than EPA. Whileother agencies may own a piece of environment turf, EPA is thesingle agency whose job is completely about environmentalmatters in the United States. And because it’s so centralto us, EPA’s missteps and goofs are on full display to theSEJ membership.Case in point: the late January press conference unveilingEPA’s budget. Afterwards, former SEJ board member MarkSchleifstein wrote EPA to complain about the agency’s surpriseground rule that every speaker except Administrator Lisa Jacksonwas on background — a rule announced to reporters while theirphones were muted, so no one could object. And EPA took only avery few questions.It was disappointing, given the work EPA had done to respondto SEJ criticisms going back to December 2008, when SEJ wrotethe outgoing Bush EPA to complain about secrecy around thecontinued on page 25

Long-time NYT reporter Andy Revkincharts new future as “communicator”FeatureBy BUD WARDIt’s no stretch to think that Andy Revkin was at the top of hisgame when he chose this past December to leave The New YorkTimes, where for years he had headed the paper’s sciencecoverage of global sustainability and climate change.Certainly, he was at the top of his journalism career, in aposition that made him one of the few “rock stars”…or celebrityreporters … in environmental journalism.Over much of the past 15 years, Revkin had enjoyeda generous Times travel budget that would makemost other journalists drool with envy; hadtoured the globe, from the Arctic to Antarctica;had unparalleled access to climatescience experts both nationally andinternationally; and, through theTimes, had wielded an agenda-settingjournalism capacity like few others.And all that on an issue seenby many of his peers in andbeyond journalism to be theenvironmental issue — perhapseven THE issue — of thecoming century.Along with a very smallgroup of other science reporters— none of them with the matchof international audience, freerangeof coverage, and highvisibility — Revkin for years hadset the bar high and had defined thestandard for climate science reporting.His copy was closely followed byother reporters around the nation andworld as a verification, or refutation, bothof quality climate science and of journalism.Andy Revkin onThe scientific community — which spared himno barbs from either end of the climate changespectrum — followed his every word, his every Tweet.He was a marquee speaker at workshops, in campus presentations,and on air …seldom detached from the 24/7 online world andnetworking that made him seem all the time to be everywhere.Now, as he moves into a new role, the journalism communitymay once again learn, not just about climate change, but alsoabout our new world of communications.So Why Leave When He Did …and To Do What?the seaWhy did Revkin leave a journalism job to which most otherscovering climate change can only aspire?In fact, it’s not entirely accurate to say that he has fully left the5 SEJournal Spring 2010iceTimes: he expects to continue his popular Dot Earth blog as anindependent contractor, and Times management appears inclinedto keep him in that capacity. And he certainly hopes not to beleaving reporting entirely either, though he hopes and expects hisfuture writing career will more often come through magazines andbooks. He now is working on a book for middle-school childrenon resilience to disasters and another, for adults, on “ways to navigatethe next 50 years with the fewest regrets.”In late December, the Times pared 100 newsand editorial employees. But Revkin’s acceptanceof the buyout surprised many. Infact, it had been in the works formonths. His new affiliation as SeniorFellow for Environmental Understandingwith Pace University’sPace Academy for Applied EnvironmentalStudies, near hishome in New York, had longsince been secured. (Pace in2007 awarded Revkin an honorarydoctorate in humane letters.)Writing of his own futureon Dot Earth in December2009, Revkin said, “I nolonger see journalism, on itsown, as the single best use ofmy remaining days. Amongother goals, I want to help makescientists and scientific institutionsinto better, more committed,more creative communicators. In aworld of shrinking specializedjournalism, direct outreach will be morevital than ever.”near North Pole, 2003.Photocourtesy Andy Revkin…Beyond Traditional Journalism and NewsprintThe roots of his move actually go further back. Some twoyears ago, Revkin had written a personal “second half” memosketching what shape his work life might take over the secondhalf of his life — he’s 54 now. What became clearer to him thenwas a realization that his future work career would have to gobeyond journalism, beyond newsprint, indeed that it might noteven encompass traditional newsroom journalism as that phrasehad adequately captured his early career.Even before launching the Dot Earth blog in October 2007as part of the Times’ venture into the digital world, Revkin wascontinued on page 7

PDF Download - Society of Environmental Journalists
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PDF Download - Society of Environmental Journalists
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