the ripple effects of one small life
Five months came and went in a blur, and suddenly I find myself with a stockpile of stories from my time at High Country News and an much wider-open road through the journalism wild…. I hope!
For the time being, amid a flurry of job applications and freelance pitches, I’ve found a home as a video journalism instructor for the Upward Bound program at the University of Colorado Boulder, where I just did my journalism master’s. Upward Bound is a fantastic program for Native American and low-income high school students, where they spend six weeks living and studying on campus, participating in positive group activities and generally improving their chances at a successful future college career. All of the 80 or so participants will be first-generation college-goers; all come from one disadvantaged background or another; all are focused on overcoming their obstacles and achieving big wild dreams.
I get to spend two three-hour chunks with my kids every week, doing my best to infect them with a passion for storytelling and impart to them the technical skills and theoretical framework they’ll need to tell their stories through film. Call it a crash-course in news broadcasting, with a documentary flair and a “solutions journalism” ethic. We’ve just begun working on their final projects, which will consume a big chunk of the remainder of their class time – each pair of students will produce a three-minute film on the topic and story angle of their choice, which we just worked on honing and shaping today. By Thursday they’ll be scheduling interviews and shooting b-roll.
Already they seem to be feeling the magic that comes with conceptualizing a story, dreaming up visual ways to tell it, and having the tools to turn at least some of those dreams into reality. Can’t wait to be able to share my students’ final projects with the world next month – although I am not looking forward to saying goodbye.
Check out the website I’m building for the class, here: CUUB Journalism
Covering Cliven Bundy somehow stole around four weeks from my calendar, in what felt like an all-Bundy-all-the-time reporting blitz. But it brought unexpected spoils: hours of interviews with fascinating people (including Bob Abbey, former director of the Bureau of Land Management), two articles on HCN.org (here and here), and my first lead story in our magazine, High Country News (yay! here it is online, if you subscribe), complete with a timeline and a trove of public documents that serve as Bundy-saga background. Huge thank you to my fantastic anonymous source.
Not to mention a self-induced immersion in public lands ranching and the history of the Sagebrush Rebellion that far surpassed my exam-cramming for a certain Foundations of American Natural Resource Law course…
I also managed to get my stories referenced in Wikipedia a few times, which I’ll take as an endorsement for my reporting – and a sign that the Interwebs acknowledges my fleeting existence. In case you’re looking for Bundy background:
Keeping an eye on Bundy Ranch from afar, and back to reporting on lesser maelstroms in the meantime.
Well I said I wanted to be an investigative journalist, didn’t I? A certain amount of backlash comes with the territory.
Tonight I toast my very first angry, threatening comment from a reader who disagrees wholeheartedly with my reporting, although he was somewhat at a loss to dispute the facts. What it comes down to is, I think, we believe in two very different universes – and his threats were light enough to only set my internal First Amendment alert to a warning-sign orange. Cheers to freedom of speech!
The controversial story in question covers the (now aborted) roundup of Clive Bundy’s cattle from federal public land in Nevada’s Gold Butte region, where for 20 years the cows have been grazing without a permit (and multiplying to about six times the originally permitted number of cattle) while Bundy refused to pay grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management, refused to remove the cattle when the land was closed to grazing altogether, ignored two court orders and a number of other citations, etc.
But the story, to me, is not about cattle at all; it’s about extreme political beliefs. Bundy and his core supporters, including armed out-of-state militia who spent part of the weekend aiming guns at federal agents (yes, also armed, for what I consider to be rational reasons, not to mention constitutional), publicly state that they fundamentally do not recognize the authority of the federal government, including its long-standing ownership of the land in question and constitutionally-established authority to manage it, its role as manager of grazing permits and collector of grazing fees, its authority to arm federal agents, etc. Yet ironically, they also cite the Constitution, which establishes the primacy of the federal government.
You can read the story here. (Even a short photo essay here.) Please jump on the comment thread. Of course, my email and phone are easy to find, should you also want to voice your views directly to me.
I stand by the facts of my reporting. And really, as I continue to cover this issue, one of the things that strikes me most is that this isn’t a case of opposing groups disputing the meaning of the same set of facts; rather, each side seems to believe in a distinct reality – and set of facts – altogether.
For more than two months now I’ve been trying my hand as a magazine and online news reporter at High Country News, covering issues across the vast and varied West from the small mountain town of Paonia, Colorado.
I just added a page to my blog with a list of the stories I’ve published with HCN – you can visit it here.
Also been redesigning my personal website a bit to reflect the fact that I’ve added print journalism to my early work in photography – check it out here, and drop me a line with any feedback.
Some interesting reporting projects coming down the pipeline – watch this space!
As an environmental journalism grad student, I spent the first year of school reporting on wildfire in the Western U.S.
Then, over the summer, I spent a month reporting on climate change issues from the “front lines” of global warming, way up in the Arctic Circle in Kirkenes, Norway.
When I returned from the Arctic, a Rolling Stone cover story caught my eye – a profile of the “Ice Maverick” glaciologist Jason Box, a story since turned into an awesome interactive multimedia piece – whose research combined those two major themes of my reporting up to that point: wildfire and climate change.
A native of Colorado, Box described a sort of “ah-ha” moment he’d had in 2012, realizing that the record number of destructive wildfires in CO may have a direct and significant relationship with the unprecedented melting of the Greenland ice sheet at the time.
Thus was born the Dark Snow Project: an attempt to measure the quantity, nature and impact of the “dark snow” on the ice sheet, much of which consisted of soot – or black carbon – the same kind that is hurtled into the atmosphere by wildfires.
Box’s epiphany helped to catalyze my own reporting, and I soon began to focus more closely on the nexus of wildfire and climate change. At some point I decided to email Jason Box himself. And email him again… and again…until finally a tentative interview date was set. And reset…and reset… He’s in high demand. And I’m a bit dogged. But pleasant.
We finally made contact – ironically I was back with family and friends on the east coast while Box was visiting family in Boulder – and over the course of a few days, I phone-interviewed him whilst he drove to the mountains for a ski weekend, and again shouting over the din whilst out at a pub in Delaware, and finally chatted through exhaustion during an unexpectedly long train ride from DE to RI (which the “polar vortex” of ice and frigid temperatures turned into three trains, two stops and eleven hours of travel… How perfectly fitting).
By the end of our series of conversations we were talking about making wine and brewing beer, and swearing rather freely. It all felt like the makings of a good story.
And here it is, my first cover story for Boulder Weekly (or anyone!), reporting on an issue that I’ve spent quite a bit of time focusing on, and plan to keep doing so for the foreseeable future. Hopefully more of us will.
(Click here for full low-res PDF…or Boulderites, just grab the paper from the newsstand!)
What better gift than to support education this holiday?
Consider making a small donation to our non-profit, Atsika, and support our mission to improve education, promote sustainable livelihoods and foster conservation in northern Madagascar.
Happy Holidays from our partner communities!
As a bona fide eco-nerd, I truly thought that some carbon offsets in honor of our travels together would make a romantic holiday gift last year. Welllllll that relationship is over… connection?
This holiday season, I took the opportunity to write about offsets instead – how they work, whether they work, what an “offset” actually is, why that might be a crappy name for the whole industry, and the optimal mindset to have if and when you buy them. The takeaway: a carbon offset is not a free pass to spew more CO2 into the atmosphere than you normally would, because in reality that CO2 isn’t about to be sucked back out of the air by your offset purchase. The offset is an investment in a carbon-neutral future (the impossible dream), while your carbon-intensive actions have immediate (as well as long-term) effects.
And plus who wants to spend their whole life on a yo-yo diet? Splurge and purge? Guilt and redemption? The key, I conclude in my article for Boulder Weekly, is to think of offsets as part of a holistic small-footprint lifestyle.
…And maybe even a holiday gift. You’d just better have a rock-solid eco-nerdy love-thang to give it to.
Note: This Christmas I have bought myself compostable garbage bags, bamboo serving bowls and recycled-plastic measuring spoons. These purchases have made me ridiculously happy.