Society of Environmental Journalists Announces 2008-2009 Award Winners


Andrew Nikiforuk was named the winner of the 2008-2009 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award earlier this week. Images courtesy of sej.org and Greystone Books.

Cue the horns: The Society of Environmental Journalists has announced the winners of the 2008-2009 Awards for Reporting on the Environment—and the honorees have produced a bevy of shocking, personal and illuminating stories in the U.S. (plus one from Canada).

The Rachel Carson Environment Book Award went to Canadian Andrew Nikiforuk for Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. The book examines the environmental impact of the infamous tar sands, which has built an empire on scarring the land and creating waste dikes that leak, causing illness in fish and human downstream. It positions Alberta as "the Saudi Arabia of the West," a place where is costs a fortune to live despite the relatively remote locale. Honorable mentions went to David Michaels for Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, and Nancy A. Nickols for Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town's Toxic Legacy.

A total of 31 awards will be handed out at a gala on Oct. 7 in Madison, Wisconsin, and while the full list of winners is a little long, we wanted to share a few winners that immediately caught our attention.

Our favorite wins for its capacity to produce change. Blake Morrison and Brad Heath took first place in the Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Print for The Smokestack Effect (USA Today), an expose on the toxic chemicals prevalent in the air around schools. The duo poured over tens of millions of government documents, collected independent air monitoring from around the country, and delved into the workings of industrial polluters nearby schools. Editor & Publisher called the final story "one of the most extensive online database reports of any newspaper." But the best news: The story prompted a $2.5 million federal plan to study pollution levels around schools.

Another winner drew us with the personal view into a policy issue. Betty Ann Bowser's Louisiana Landfills Report (The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer), which landed her in second place in Outstanding Story, Television, Large Market, was told through the eyes of one farmer's plight. Bower examined government loopholes that allowed landfills to be developed without liners in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Subsequent concern about contamination has meant the farmer is not able to sell his crops (or eat them himself), which has all but destroyed his livelihood.

Another winner we couldn't leave off the list of highlights is David Baron, producer of NPR's Shifting Ground series which looked at the ways communities are coping with growing pains, and snagged first place in Outstanding Beat, In-Depth Radio. From a story on "how a donkey inspired a community to save itself" to a family divided on wind power to concerns about coastal erosion through the eyes of a Texas town, the radio series captures the struggles of every-day Americans as they come to terms with change in their communities.

Not to be outdone, the other winners of print, online, TV and radio reporting awards focused attention on a wide variety of issues including the behaviors of marine mammals, toxicity of pesticides, nuclear and coal energy, and uranium mining.

The SEJ website boasts a full list of winners including links to their work—each one is definitely worth a read, listen or viewing.

More on Environmental Journalism:
Metcalf Institute Diversity Fellows Announced
Article Argues for Press Freedom to Stop Climate Change
Has Green Journalism Jumped the Shark?

Tags: Air Pollution | Alberta | Farming | New Orleans | Oil | Pollution | Texas | Toxins | Waste