Asher Price covers the environmental beat for the Austin American-Statesman. He talked to us about the challenges and rewards of reporting on one of the hottest topics around.
How did you get your start on the environmental beat?
“I had been a general assignment reporter at the Austin American-Statesman for a couple of years. It was good, interesting work, but I found myself skating from story to story. I was looking for a beat to develop depth to my reporting, and the environmental beat happened to have opened up at the time.”
Why is it important to have a reporter assigned to the environmental beat in a newsroom?
“It makes for interesting and sometimes important stories – profiles about what crazy things people are doing to get off the grid or stories that explain the intersection of money and politics and energy. By having an environmental beat, the paper is showing that it is serious about engaging in complex issues.
“The environmental beat is especially significant in Austin, which sits by a large underground aquifer and by a region that has numerous endangered species. On an everyday level, environmental issues affect all of us – in terms of air and water quality, say – and our readers are interested in these issues.
With the oil industry so large in Texas, how is the BP spill impacting your coverage?
“In an odd way, the BP oil spill feels a little distant from Austin. Our city is at least a three-hour drive to the Gulf, and then it’s the wrong part of the Gulf from the spill. We’ve been grappling with how to write about it. I’ve written about the state’s spending and response historically to spills in Texas waters.
How have you seen environmental reporting change as the topic becomes more mainstream?
“I’ve had the environmental beat for four years, and in that time it hasn’t changed much, frankly. It’s possible it’s gotten more attention — especially when the price of oil spiked a couple of years ago — but my sense is that by the beginning of this decade it was already a hot topic.”
What do you hope readers take away from your stories?
“Mostly I hope they’ll be engaged a little more on a topic and see a little more nuance to it. So much information we get is bifurcated into good/bad or yes/no, often promulgated by advocacy groups of one stripe or another. On political stories, I hope they understand there’s invariably a relationship between money, power and policy, and on lighter stories I hope they’re entertained.”