|Being an Environmental Correspondent
Jeff Young is senior correspondent for PRIís “Living on Earth”, a weekly public radio program focusing on the environment. Jeff’s main area of coverage has to do with energy choices and climate change. For six years he covered environmental policy and politics on Capitol Hill as LOEís Washington Correspondent. He now lives in Arlington, Mass., with his wife Helen and their two daughters.
ďGrand Bayou RevisitedĒ aired August 27, 2010, in a special edition of “Living on Earth” devoted to the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I revisited a small Native-American fishing village I had reported on in the months after Katrina, Grand Bayou Village. I found people still struggling to come back from the storm were also on the front lines of the BP oil spill and the effort to stop coastal erosion. In short, Grand Bayou is a microcosm of the challenges confronting the entire Gulf Coast.
ďBattle of Blair MountainĒ aired October 8, 2010. This mountain in the heart of southern West Virginiaís coal country was the scene of a bloody confrontation between coal operators and union coal miners in 1921. Itís a nearly forgotten chapter in the nationís labor history. Now, the mountain itself could become history if mountaintop removal coal mining advances across the ridge.
ďWild Weather of 2010Ē aired December 17, 2010. I asked three leading meteorologists and climate scientists to recount and explain the extreme weather events of the year and what they tell us about our changing climate.
Hi Iím Jeff Young, senior correspondent with Public Radio Internationalís “Living on Earth”, and a proud graduate of Marshallís school of journalism.
And Iím happy to have this chance to talk with you about what I do. And since I work in radio, it does seem appropriate to, well, talk. I like working with audio. The human voice and the sounds of our surroundings carry a tremendous amount of information and emotional impact. That offers a lot for the storytelling side of our craft. And no disrespect to the other broadcast media, but radio is a medium that has retained its humanity. What I mean is, itís a very human scale mediumóno lights or cameras to make people self-conscious. Iíve found that makes it easier to get to the heart of matters.
The program I work for, “Living on Earth”, is an environmental news program. I very much enjoy covering the environment and I would encourage you to consider making the environment part of your work as well. I donít think thereís a more important beat. Covering the environment isnít just about some endangered critters in a faraway forest. The environment is about the air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, the way we build our cities, move ourselves about, produce our goods and power our society. And itís about the political and economic choices and scientific developments that shape our world.
Covering the environment has given me a chance to work on Capitol Hill and cover presidential campaigns. Itís given me the chance to meet and interview some of the worldís top scientists. And itís meant a front seat at some historic moments like Hurricane Katrina and last yearís Gulf oil spill.
Itís also keeps bringing me back home to West Virginia to cover coal. The questions around coal--the way itís mined and how much we will burnóare of profound importance not just for West Virginia, but for the world. Make no mistake: climate change is real. The science on this is abundantly clear. And coal is a major contributor. This is a serious challenge for a region that has pinned so much on a single resource. Thereís a lot at stake here and that means there are tremendous stories to be told by young journalists like you.
Now, Iíve been asked to talk a bit about how I got this job. It was a pretty winding path. After Marshall, I worked a bit in television, newspapers and radio. I was interested in focusing on the environment, but I knew I wanted to know more about the underlying science. So I went back to school and studied biology. Then I volunteered at a biological research station in Costa Rica and spent time kicking around Central America. When I came back home I focused on public radio. It matched my values and seemed a good fit for the work I wanted to do. After a number of part time jobs I finally got a full time reporting position with WV public radio. It was a wonderful job and I worked for them seven years in Charleston and Morgantown. I was a general assignment reporter but I focused on environmental issues, because nearly every important story in the state, from coal to chemicals, timber to tourism, seemed to relate to the environment.
I often filed stories for national news programs like “All Things Considered” and “Living on Earth”, and that helped me establish myself. When “Living on Earth” advertised for a Washington correspondent I jumped at the chance. I moved to Washington in 2003 and worked on Capitol Hill for 6 years. In 2009 I moved to the Boston area, where “Living on Earth” has its headquarters.
So how does this relate to you, as you decide what career path to choose? Well, probably not much. I donít need to tell you that media are going through big and painful changes. From a job perspective itís pretty scary. Lots of papers are cutting back or folding altogether and no clear business models have yet emerged to make new media reward the content that journalism provides. A lot of people are trying a lot of exciting new approaches including non-profit models for investigative journalism and new cooperative arrangements that cut across different media.
Bottom line is, if you choose journalism as a career today, it wonít look much at all like it did yesterday and it might change yet again tomorrow. That means a lot of exciting opportunities; it also means a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. It means you wonít be able to follow what others did in the pastóthat path simply isnít there anymore. Youíll have to make your own path.
It was nice talking with you. And, Go Herd.