Page One Project:

Putting the Environment Back in the headlines

LA Times_santa barbara cover.jpg

Many Americans take for granted the landmark environmental laws that protect our air, water and public lands. But those laws – which took shape 50 years ago in the face of intense public demand for better stewardship of our nation’s resources – have proven anything but immutable. Politics, market forces, new science and public opinion continually reshape the way our society not only uses its natural resources, but also how well we understand the benefits and consequences of their use.

Authors of laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act could never have envisioned the changes we’re seeing today. The planet is warming faster than many scientists predicted, delivering rising seas, superstorms and wildfires that threaten to overwhelm systems designed to respond to much lesser threats. Meanwhile, politicians actively undermine and even reverse long-standing protections, exposing communities to known health threats and exacerbated natural disasters.

What hasn’t changed in those 50 years is journalism’s duty to investigate conflicts, illuminate hidden injustices, amplify unheard voices, and identify solutions for complex, often contentious issues. The stories still need telling.

Drawing on a quarter-century of experience, IJNR is uniquely qualified to conduct a series of programs across the country that will inform and empower journalists to explore a unifying question: With decades of environmental policy behind us and an uncertain future ahead, how can we best inform the public about the threats, challenges, and successes that await on the horizon?

It’s time we put the environment back on Page One.

Here’s how:

Through a series of Institutes across the United States that emphasize on-site learning and a wide range of expert voices, IJNR will give journalists the tools they need to cover the most pressing issues of our time. We’ll take them to places where global warming isn’t an abstract future concept, but a current-day reality that local officials and citizens grapple with daily. We’ll visit communities whose residents bear the brunt of environmental policy – but often lack the economic and political clout needed to affect change. And we’ll delve into the details of recent policy shifts with real-life examples of what has changed and what impacts lie ahead.

As always, IJNR explores those issues through the lens of better journalism: How to tell stories that resonate with audiences. How to rise above the first line of rhetoric and reveal true attitudes. How to translate science into clear lay terms. How to report in communities that have been historically under- or misrepresented.

Each IJNR Institute investigates larger themes and applies them to specific places and people. Here are the themes we feel it’s most important for the Page One Project to explore:

Photo: Justin Sullivan_Getty

Photo: Justin Sullivan_Getty

Climate change

From rising seas and superstorms to raging wildfires, dwindling water supplies and threatened habitat, the effects of global warming are showing up across North America – and scientists are finally able to point to specific events as evidence. The Page One Project will give reporters the tools they need to report accurately on local global warming impacts, strategies for adaptation and plans for mitigation.

Photo: HHR Journal

Photo: HHR Journal

Regulatory rollbacks

Known carcinogens and asthma-inducing particulates are back in play across the United States now that long-standing environmental protections have been relaxed or reversed. Waters once protected by landmark laws are no longer subject to regulation. The Page One Project will help reporters understand what rules have changed, the health risks involved and how to explain complicated science and policies to general audiences.

Photo: Julie Dermansky_DeSmogBlog

Photo: Julie Dermansky_DeSmogBlog

Underserved communities

The most dire environmental problems tend to land at the feet of communities with the least resources for combating or even managing them. And whether it’s migrant communities battling agricultural chemicals, inner-city neighborhoods near industrial sites, indigenous homelands succumbing to sea-level rise, or rural towns caught in the path of megafires, those stories are seldom told. Yet it’s often in these communities that we also find stories of hope, resilience, innovation, and cultural strength. The Page One Project will help reporters understand how to approach those communities and tell their stories respectfully and empathetically.

Photo: USBR

Photo: USBR


Supercharged storms swamp municipal sewer and water systems. Massive dam and levee projects interrupt natural processes and create unforeseen consequences that threaten communities. Meanwhile, collaborative projects across the nation work to solve problems caused by outdated infrastructure and to support natural processes of renewal. The Page One Project will give reporters tools for recognizing shortcomings in our systems – structural and administrative – and for helping the public understand potential fixes and the ramifications of inaction.