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Green Economy 2010 blog


Covering the Green Economy: Self-guided training

Andrew Leckey Angel Gonzalez

Reynolds Center President Andrew Leckey introduces Angel Gonzalez, Dow Jones Houston bureau chief.

“Covering the Green Economy” seminar on June 28-30, 2010.

This three-day specialized workshop was made possible by a grant from the McCormick Foundation. The program was designed to help journalists spot greenwashing, understand how to track stimulus money earmarked for “green” initiatives and get up to speed on eco-trends in a variety of industries.

The seminar’s jam-packed schedule and a list of top-notch speakers, including best-selling author and coal industry expert Jeff Goodell, ensured that attendees left with a slew of story ideas and a firm grasp on the world of sustainability.

Take a look through the recordings, resources and tools below. At your own pace, you can walk through the self-guided lesson on covering the green economy. This interactive course covers a wide variety of beats that touch on the economics of environmental issues.

STIMULUS: Russ Choma is an investigative reporter who focuses on climate and energy issues, transportation and stimulus spending for the Investigative Reporting Workshop, Nieman Watchdog and Grist.org.

AUTOS: Jim Motavalli, a freelance environmental reporter and author who blogs for a variety of publications including The New York Times. He has a weekly syndicated “Wheels” column and also writes for NPR’s Car Talk.

economy fellows

Jim Motavalli, right, talks with a group of fellows over lunch.

FOOD: Steve Short, CEO of Atlasta Catering and Event Concepts and Colin Tetreault, director of sustainability management for Atlasta, talked about trends in the food industry … including the food we are eating.

BUSINESS, SCIENCE AND HEALTH: Susanne Rust, a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and a former award-winning reporter for the Milwaukee Journal. Sentinel.

BROWN ROOFS, BLUE DORMS and PLATINUM CONDOS: Bryn Nelson is a freelance science writer and editor with a special interest in technology, biomedicine, and ecology. Formerly an award-winning science writer for Newsday and a weekly columnist for MSNBC.com.

THE SHIPBREAKERS: Gary Cohn is a freelance investigative reporter, adjunct journalism professor at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism and winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

THE ENERGY STORY: Jeff Goodell is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and a frequent contributor to New York Times Magazine. He is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller “Our Story: 77 Hours That Tested Our Friendship and Our Faith.”

WATER: Craig Pittman is an award-winning environmental reporter at the St. Petersburg Times and the author of two books. Pittman also spoke about turning a good story into a book. Shaun McKinnon is an award-winning reporter who writes about climate and environmental issues for The Arizona Republic.

OIL: Angel Gonzalez is Houston Bureau Chief for Dow Jones Newswires, where he helps lead the Newswires’ coverage of the global energy industry.


Got hold of a good story? Book it!

Craig Pittman Book It!

Craig Pittman shares tips on turning a beat into a book. Photo by Robin J. Phillips

Craig Pittman from the St. Petersburg Times came back for the final presentation during lunch.  Pittman is the author of two books, Paving Paradise and Manatee Insanity. Both books originated from a story that he was working on, making him an ideal person to help teach how to turn story ideas in to a book!

This presentation was full of tips and suggestions on how the creation of a book generally works, from start to finish.  Needless to say it is not the easiest thing to do, as about 190,000 books are published every year in the United States.  However, Pittman was sure to encourage everyone as there are millions of readers waiting, and just one reader’s praise can make it worthwhile.  Below is a summary of his notes and tips for everyone who is interested!

Based on a true story:

  1. Be sure to save all of your notes.
  2. Include all the details you had to leave out of your story.
  3. Build a timeline.
  4. Look for “scenes” as you gather your notes.

New tools for research:

  1. In the old days research was limited to microfilm and library stacks.
  2. Today Google News Archive and Google Books are two great places to start.

Tackling a big job:

  1. Break it in to smaller jobs.
  2. Outline the book in to jobs, then outline each chapter.
  3. Think of each chapter as  story and start plugging away.

Sweat the details:

  1. When writing non-fiction this is particularly important.
  2. Proof your text, preferably with more than one set of eyes.
  3. Footnotes – remember there are a number of different styles.
  4. Remember you have to do the index.
  5. Be sure to get permission for any photos, maps, song lyrics, etc.

Marketing (or what Pittman called “the necessary evil”)

  1. Don’t count on newspaper reviews.
  2. Look to TV and radio who are looking for guests.
  3. Contact book stores, libraries, book clubs, etc.
  4. Make use of the internet (create a website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon)

Obviously each author will run in to issues of their own along the way, but these tips are a great start for anyone who is looking to turn a headline in to a story book ending.


Angel Gonzalez speaks about the future of big oil after the spill

Angel Gonzalez

Angel Gonzalez speaks about the complications with the oil and energy industry

Angel Gonzalez, Houston bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires, is a longtime energy reporter who has covered the oil industry for years. He has made two trips to the Gulf Coast since the explosion of a BP deepwater drill in April 2010. He has seen the crisis unfold from economic and environmental standpoints and talked to reporters about the problems and possible outcomes from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

When Gonzalez first saw the oil spill, it wasn’t what he expected.

“It looked like an island of oil, the size of Puerto Rico,” he said.

The spill happened at the worst possible time for the energy industry, Gonzalez said. Not only did the spill bring to a halt any cooperation the industry had gained from the government for offshore drilling, it also shut down the fishing and tourist industries. And with the quickly approaching hurricane season, the spill is at nearly worst-case-scenario.

With all the devastation it has caused, Gonzalez said this spill has the potential to make some change in the industry. It’s possible that the spill will push companies toward renewable energies, particularly natural gas, cellulosic ethanol or algae. The difficulty is that it’s really hard to know what will work, Gonzalez said. In addition, the United States’ demand for oil is gargantuan and renewable energies right now are not on the same scale.

Gonzalez gave a few websites which can be valuable resources for reporters:

  • CERA.com: Cambridge Energy Research Associates for various types of energy research
  • EIA.gov: The US Energy Information Administration has many valuable statistics and analysis

Tracking the toll of development on water from East to West

Shuan McKinnon water journalist

Shaun McKinnon writes about climate for the Arizona Republic

This session was taught by Shaun McKinnon of the Arizona Republic and Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times, two award-winning reporters.

The very first issue addressed, was the fact that water has a much greater economic impact than many people realized.  What made this most interesting was to see two entirely different climates (wetlands and desert) encountering similar issues.

Here in Phoenix it was an issue of water supply.  To create new housing developments and small suburbs there must be a 100-year supply of renewable water, however nearly none of it can come from the ground.

In response to this developments can sign up with a groundwater replenishment program and use groundwater.  A charge is given to the homeowners in the area (something small, less than $100 a year) and then the replenishment program “recharges” the aquifer, so that on paper there will be a “net zero” as far as water lost.

However, truthfully those numbers do not equal zero and the amount of money required to run this program will continue to rise as more developments are created.  The cost of the program will eventually rise, and the damage to the AZ water supply are both something homeowners will have to deal with.

Pittman had a similar story of “restoration” in Florida.  The series of work he did has now become a book titled Paving Paradise.

Between 1999 and 2003 over 12,000 permits were approved for building on wetlands, only one was denied.  Mitigation banking was seen as a way to make sure there would be no wetland losses.  As long as a wetland was restored somewhere else they could destroy the one they wanted to build on.  Similar to the “net zero” results in the water program in Arizona.

However, during Pittman’s research he was able to find that many banks were managing to give away these credits for dry land.  One back had 90% of its credits from dry land!

The same is happening with an area that is the habitat for the Florida Panther, the most endangered mammal east of the Mississippi river.

To find this information Pittman worked a long time going through paperwork and satellite images to determine what the facts were.  In working such an in-depth story he had three pieces of advice for journalists.

1.  Learn how to use spreadsheets, build them, analyze them, etc.

2.  Type your notes and interviews as soon as possible.  (Pittman even has his as a part of a wiki to make them searchable and easy to access later on)

3.  Create a timeline when you start and build on it as your story develops.

Just another great example that business lurks in every aspect of the news and in every aspect of the environment.


Jeff Goodell speaks about energy and covering the coal industry

Jeff Goodell coal keynote

Jeff Goodell talks with fellows at Covering the Green Economy

Jeff Goodell, contributing editor at Rolling Stone, contributer to the New York Times Magazine, and author, has covered the coal and energy industries for nearly a decade. Goodell talked to journalists about the challenges and importance of telling the energy stories, in addition to his book, “Our Story: 77 Hours That Tested Our Friendship and Our Faith,” the story of the Pennsylvania coal miners who were trapped underground in July 2002.

Goodell said he began covering the coal industry when an editor suggested he do some research in response to the Bush administration’s proposed energy bill in 2001. One of his biggest allies was, ironically, his ignorance about coal in general.

“I went in completely blind. I’d never seen a piece of coal in my entire life,” Goodell said. “I knew nothing, nothing, nothing.”

This lack of information allowed him to ask the simple questions, Goodell said, and let him look at the industry from a completely new perspective.

Goodell advised journalists to be strait referees and make the tough judgement calls to sort through the PR “weapons of mass pursuasion” that are throw during the battle between fossil fuels and clean energy.

Writing about clean energy is different from any reporting we’ve done, Goodell said, and will require dedicated reporters who tell the stories in a new way.

Goodell gave a few tips for reporters who are tackling this large issue:

  • Ask the simple questions. What happens when you turn on a light switch? Think about the story from the perspective of someone who knows nothing
  • Don’t underestimate the fossil fuel industry. These companies have the potential to be very pursuasive and industry changing
  • Tell more than the “balanced” party-one-said-this, party-two-said-that-story. As a journalist, you need to make the call and tell it like it is.
  • Take advantage of incidents when you have the public’s attention. When the Pennsylvania miners were trapped underground or during our current oil spill crisis, people look for information. Tell them the stories you have been covering for years.
  • The money in these industries is under reported right now. Follow the financial information
  • Use local ties, such as population growth, to talk about the environmental issues facing your area

Covering the Green Economy: Photos


Gary Cohn talks about taking a local story global

Gary Cohn on Shipbuliders

Gary Cohn explains how his shipbuilding story became an international tale.

Gary Cohn, a freelance investigative reporter and winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, spoke to business journalists about taking a local story and making it global.

Cohn and his co-worker from the Baltimore Sun, Will Englund, starting to write their Pultizer Prize winning story “The Shipbreakers” as a local story, but quickly learned that this virtually unknown and very dangerous industry of breaking down naval ships had environmental and employee safety problems on an international scale.

Cohn gave a few tips for how to chase a local story around the globe:

  • When someone won’t talk to you, you need to find a creative way in. For us, we knocked on doors and submitted written questions. Just look for an alternative
  • Sometimes there are no “experts” to be found, so talk to the people who work in the industry
  • Routinely check court documents to see what records are involved in your story
  • When you’re looking for hard-to-find information, ask yourself who might have it and who might have a vested interest in helping me find it (think lawsuits)
  • Use a timeline and take a look at how everything worked in progression
  • When looking for an interpreter, you need someone who not only speaks the language, but can connect with your source and relay the message to you word for word
  • Write clearly and narrowly to tell the complex story

Blue jeans, brown roofs and other emerging trends in green buildings

Using laptops to be truly green

Fellows took notes on laptops during Bryn Nelson's session, helping this 3-day seminar be truly green.

Story ideas were running wild in the session presented by Bryn Nelson, a freelance writer and editor, and former award-winning reporter for Newsday.

Nelson’s presentation was wonderfully put together and his knowledge of the topic was obvious.  It was broken down in to four different sections, each with plenty of opportunities and ideas to bring to your editors.

The first covered “Green Roofs,” or buildings that have plants and other landscape growing on the rooftops.  It provides a number of benefits, reducing water runoff, energy consumption and household temperatures.

In one study a blacktop roof temperature was reported to be 159 degrees Fahrenheit, and a similar building with a Green roof was reported to be at 109 degrees.  This is a popular trend as it also increases resale values, adding beauty to homes and providing natural habitats to a number of insects and animals.

Green walls or urban gardens are being explored in L.A. where tomatoes, strawberries, hot peppers, watermelon, lettuce, radishes and legumes are virtually growing on the street.  As urbanization continues ideas similar to these may lead the “green” generation.  Looking for these trends may provide multiple story ideas.

Nelson also gave a brief overview or LEED and other certification agencies.  It may be interesting to take a closer look at different agencies requirements.  There is also a bill currently sitting in the Senate after having been approved by the House known as Home State Energy Retrofit Act of 2010.  This would provide up to $6 billion to those looking to retrofit their existing homes to be more energy efficient and environmentally sensitive.

The next category was titled “Forever in Blue Jeans” focusing on alternative products being used in construction.  Two big areas to take a look at insulation and flooring.  Insulation has a number of new options as builders look to move away from fiberglass.  Cellulose, spray foam, soy based, and recycled denim insulation are all being discussed as alternatives.  In flooring, bamboo, eco-eucalyptus, and GeoDeck (composite wood alternative) are vying for position in the green building market.

Green makeovers are becoming more and more popular with a number of options.  The U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria was the first of its kind to be LEED certified.  Dorms at Ithaca College in New York and Emerson in Boston have received ratings from LEED and Energy Star.  Net Zero homes and buildings appear to be next in green building trends.  These buildings create as much energy as they use, leaving a zero net carbon emissions.  A high school in Los Angeles is under construction and is being called Net Zero High, and is expected to be completed in 2012.  A new pizza shop in New York called “Revd UP Pi” will be serving organic pizza, using solar and wind energy to provide their electricity, and plans on growing its herbs on the rooftop!

It is all a lot to take in but exciting to see all the trends out there.  Building trends are inherently have local angles as almost everywhere is experiencing growth or change.  Hopefully what was discussed today can provide you with a few ideas, and encourage to look for similar trends in your part of the country.


Green Economy keynote: Live streaming Jeff Goodell on covering coal

Jeff Goodell

Jeff Goodell

Join us at 10:30 a.m. PDT on Tuesday for the LIVE stream video of Jeff Goodell’s keynote talk on Covering the coal story: From Appalachia to geo-engineering.

Jeff Goodell is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and a frequent contributor to New York Times Magazine.

He is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller “Our Story: 77 Hours That Tested Our Friendship and Our Faith,” based on the terrifying hours nine Quecreek miners spent trapped underground and “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future,” which is the basis for an upcoming feature documentary.

Goodell’s latest book “How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix the Earth’s Climate” is the daring—some would say crazy—effort to adjust the Earth’s thermostat and save us all from global warming.