More testimonials from Fellows and Speakers:
"Really, really excellent program - it would have taken me FOREVER to gain on my own the level of knowledge and perspective I got on this trip. Since I'm new to this region and to the station, and was promptly assigned the energy beat, I was more than a little anxious about diving into coverage of the gas boom. I'm much, much more confident about that now. I know a lot of the basics and have a sense of what questions to ask on a range of topics. That is already making a concrete difference in the quantity and quality of stories on the industry that our listeners are hearing. Thank you!"
-Joanna Richards, Ideastream (Shale Country Institute)
"I left the IJNR Shale Country Institute with tons of story ideas and knowledge of where to find expert sources on a wide range of energy related issues. What I learned from the trip will be informing my reporting for years to com. Just today I made a call on radioactive drill waste -- something I wouldn't have even known about without the trip."
-Stephanie Ogburn, KUNC (Shale Country Institute)
I have a big feature out today for National Geographic on sea-level rise and the Outer Banks. You'll see some familiar sources. And some familiar details about coastal dynamics. I'm not going to lie: writing for National Geographic is a big break for me. And it wouldn't have been possible without IJNR, so thank you, thank you, thank you!"
-Sara Peach, freelance writer (North Carolina Institute)
“IJNR offers the very best journalism fellowships in the business. There is no comparison between a fellowship where you sit in a conference room – and the get-your-feet-muddy immersion experience of an IJNR fellowship for the lucky journalists who are selected. I’m a Great Waters ’05 alum and an Asian Carp ’11 alum – and both times, I came away from the experiences with a much deeper understanding of the issues we covered than I would have had otherwise. There’s just nothing that compares to seeing things with your own eyes: paddling to harvest rice with tribal members who are trying to protect their traditions… and on the same day, talking in person with a lakefront homeowner who wants certain water levels to be able to access his boat (the same water levels that ruin a rice crop). Or being in a boat surrounded by silver carp leaping into the air. Or spending a weekend camping in the most remote national park in the country, Isle Royale, and having a gray wolf cross my hiking path, and then being able to interview the wolf expert later that same day. These experiences are cemented into my memory, and I draw on them when I report these issues. The IJNR team does such an amazingly thorough job researching and planning the expeditions. There’s rarely a similar occasion in life when you have people representing many sides of an issue right there in front of you, in the same location, to talk about the nuances of their beliefs and opinions. My fellowship experiences with IJNR have been the most instrumental fellowships of any I’ve attended – and they have long-lasting effects on my reporting. I’ve come away with unforgettable first-hand experiences that are far better than what I could design myself, and far better than what I’d learn in any book or from any conference. I’m so grateful for IJNR’s existence, and grateful for the vision of the foundations that have supported – and continue – to support IJNR. Please know that your support makes great journalists into even better reporters and storytellers, and that leads to a better-informed public.”
-Rebecca Williams, Senior Reporter/Producer/Host, The Environment Report, Michigan Radio (NPR affiliate)
“I’m writing to say that expedition-style training for journalists does make a real and lasting difference in the quality of environmental coverage. A classroom, conference, or online course can’t provide the real, human connection and the tangible context. Environmental stories are necessarily stories about economy, culture and society too — and understanding those interconnections and being able to tell those stories in a vivid, compelling way requires in-person contact and firsthand experience.
When I traveled the Blue Mountains with IJNR in 2006, our group of journalists came away with a much deeper understanding of the issues we studied and their economic and social meaning because we saw them firsthand. We rode a tractor through a rancher’s fields and saw his robust cattle and his healthy land — and heard about the kids and grandkids he hoped would inherit his operation; we met with tribal leaders and shared smoked salmon with them — and learned how the fish are integral to tribal life; we visited a no-till farmer and walked over his fields — and saw his rich, loamy soil and what grew there and what didn’t grow there, and how he’d had to abandon all his traditional farm equipment and buy new machines to carry out that farming method. And those experiences were profound and indelible — six years later I still think about things I saw on that trip; I still recall things that sources told me as I was standing next to them in a field. To give just one example, an Indian speaker gave us a simple but profound question that I’ve used to help deepen High Country News’ approach to many land-use stories: Whose land is this?
Regularly, during editorial discussions at HCN one of our editors will refer to something they learned during an IJNR fellowship (I think our staff has been on at least 8 expeditions over the past years); a source they met, a practice they saw, an idea that someone brought up during group discussions. Their IJNR experiences have become a long-lasting influence on their thinking and reporting.
When our group of journalists shared what they’d learned at dinner on the last night of the expedition, each person was visibly moved by what they had seen, the conversations they had had. I’ve been to plenty of conferences and classrooms, and what I saw and learned in those settings has not had nearly the influence on me that the IJNR expedition did. Being out there, getting your hands dirty, seeing the fish and fields and ditches and vineyards, talking in person with the men and women who are struggling with problems and finding solutions — there’s just no substitute.”
- Jodi Peterson, High Country News, Managing Editor
“As the journalism cliche goes, there is no substitute for “being there.” When you’re reporting a story, being there gets you details that you can’t get over the phone. When you’re in training, being there puts the issues into three dimensions, as opposed to the two-dimensional presentations you get from a Powerpoint at a conference. Conferences can be great because they concentrate knowledge in one place. But IJNR is great because it brings knowledge alive in a way that no other journalism training program does. I would say it’s at least as important for a journalist to do place-based training as it is for them to go to a conference.
As a result of my IJRN expedition in 2005, I wrote a story for my newspaper (the Argus Leader in South Dakota) as soon as I returned that I would never have written had I not been on the expedition. Moreover, my overall approach to journalism changed because I spent time with mentors and colleagues in places where news was happening. I heard the questions they asked and then later got to see the stories that came out of it. In particular I saw Frank Allen use a simple technique that I used throughout my career: ask the same question twice. When he asked his question the first time, the wildlife official answered it with a safe, generic answer. The second time, he gave us journalistic gold: a vivid story about accidentally walking into a pack of sleeping wolves — and then walking out, very, very slowly.
I have no doubt that my week in Wyoming made me more interested in writing about wildlife, energy, and the envirnoment, and that it made me better able to do it in three dimensions.”
- Ben Shouse, former environment reporter, Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), currently a science writer at the Pew Charitable Trusts
“IJNR helped me get a big picture perspective of the region I covered as an environmental reporter. The contacts, the networking, and the overall experience were valuable to me and kept me motivated back in the newsroom.
- Claudia Broman, owner and writer, Ashland Current
” IJNR immersed participants not only in critical environmental, economic and social issues affecting the expedition region, but also in daily opportunities to engage in the act of journalistic inquiry into those issues. By providing both content knowledge and reporting skills development, IJNR transformed me into a more inspired and capable environmental journalist. The expedition continues to serve as a benchmark for thoughtful, high-impact, investigative journalism.”
-Mark Dwortzan, freelance writer and editor
” I participated in three IJNR fellowships, in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The first one, the Acadian Institute in Maine, was a revelation to me as a young environmental reporter just out of Columbia Journalism School. We spent so much time with environmental leaders, business people, regulators and workers on the ground that I developed a very different attitude toward actually “being there” to get a story that necessarily benefits from soaking in the environment. That first trip led directly to a freelance article I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, about the early development of transgenic salmon that scientists were developing for shoreline fish farmers. Mine was the first popular article on the topic, and was clearly written with the environmental implications in mind — what if one of these things escaped its pen and bred with wild salmon? I’d like to think it helped frame the public conversation about genetically engineered animals since then.
In 2000 I participated in the Golden Gate Institute, and used that trip as leverage to get hired as the environmental reporter at the San Francisco Examiner this year.
Flash forward a dozen years and I am the editor of the San Francisco Public Press (sfpublicpress.org), a nonprofit local news experiment daily online and quarterly in print. We have environmental news in every issue, and partner with a range of local publications including Bay Nature and Earth Island Journal. As an editor, I have benefited greatly from the IJNR training, which shaped both my commitment to and understanding of environmental reporting.”
- Michael Stoll, editor, San Francisco Public Press
"I cover the energy industry for The Dallas Morning News, and I try to help regular people understand a very complex topic. I can only do this by understanding the topic myself, especially the little things that industry sources might not ever think to explain.
The best way to get this knowledge is to visit energy operations, and thanks to IJNR, I gained a week of such valuable experience. I know, for example, that a coal-fired power plant doesn’t belch out black soot. I also know that coal plants tend to be covered in fine, white ash. I know that wind turbines are huge, not really ugly, but kind of noisy if you stand next to it.
These observations aren’t news. But they allow me to make better decisions as I report the news. I know the guy living next to a coal plant has a legitimate gripe about pollution, and the guy living next to a wind turbine probably can’t sleep.
I also know, thanks to the IJNR trip, that some Indians feel the energy industry has taken advantage of them. Hearing their concerns made me more sensitive to similar complaints by my own readers. It really is difficult for a regular person to connect his solar panel to the grid, whether he lives in a pueblo or a suburb.
And, I learned on the INJR trip that climate scientists really do not know how much the earth is warming or why. It didn’t turn me into a global warming skeptic, but showed me that I should be skeptical of anyone making a definitive claim about climate science.
Another important aspect of the INJR experience was meeting other journalists who know about energy and the environment, and participating in discussion.
And on a journalistic note, the trip introduced me to Frank Allan’s approach to writing. This was a revelation to me, and has helped me write stories that are easier to read, but packed with even more information. There’s no point in doing the reporting if I can’t communicate with readers. ”
-Elizabeth Souder, energy reporter, The Dallas Morning News
"My Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources Lake Country expedition to the North Woods of Wisconsin in October 2009 was intense, exhilarating, thought-provoking and just plain fun.
I’ve spent plenty of 8-hour days locked in a windowless hotel conference room, watching PowerPoints and fighting the desire to nod off. IJNR’s model combines talks on the bus from experts with diverse viewpoints and muddy walks in the wild for a multi-faceted, well-balanced experience that lingers in the mind long after it’s over.
As an old polio survivor, I was especially grateful that Frank Allen made sure I was handling the more challenging physical exploits.
For anyone on the environment beat, there’s no substitute for a field trip to get hands-on learning about the land.”
- Christy George, reporter and producer, Oregon Public Broadcasting
“I value the time I spent in the Puget Sound expedition because field experience is enormously useful for the work I am doing along the coastline. That is so because being on site opens up another way to see subject matter, gives me another perspective from which to ask questions and assess the situation. That’s been important to me as I proceed in my own work because it has made me more perceptive, more able to look for answers in places I might not have known to look, otherwise. Grasping how a whole community is affected by the actions of a small group comes out of actually seeing what’s happening, and being able to ask questions of those in positions of authority to affect change, which IJNR facilitates on its expedition, makes one ever more realistic.
I am attending a community meeting tonight about the installation of a steel sheet pile wall along a threatened roadway that parallels the coast. All the varius interest groups, pro and con will be there with their lawyers. It will be long, painfully so, and contentious. And my job is to understand how these issues will carry over to the little community, hardly a mile away, that I am tracking. So here I am in the field, wishing there were a few IJNR fellows alongside to parse the conflicting interests.”
- Kathie Florsheim, independent photographer
“The IJNR Great Lakes fellowship (2009) was one of the most valuable experiences of my professional life. Back then, I was a science writer for The Wildlife Society’s member magazine, The Wildlife Professional (I’m currently the Managing Editor for the magazine) and, given the nature of the world of non-profits, I had to do most my interviews over the phone. The IJNR fellowship took me out and showed me issues that I’d so often written about, but never actually experienced first-hand. IJNR organizers planned every day perfectly, introducing us to a number of experts who discussed critical environmental issues, such as the controversy surrounding concentrated animal feeding operations and the ecological impact of cormorants on Canada’s East Sister and Middle Island. In the process of being exposed to different points of view on each topic, we also learned more about good journalism. I’m proud to be an IJNR fellow, and I’ll always be grateful to have had that experience.”
- Divya Abhat, Managing Editor, The Wildlife Professional
” I’ve been to a lot of journalism “bootcamps” where journalists sit in conference rooms and listen to PowerPoint presentations from experts. I’ve gained useful background information from these experiences, but they just don’t compare to IJNR: During an IJNR fellowship, journalists get to know a new part of the country, often one that’s undercovered and underappreciated by national media; they get to not only listen to but actively question and converse with the invited speakers, which is how most reporters learn best; and they get to hear the speakers talk to – even argue with – one another, giving reporters a rich sense of the ongoing conversation around the issues at hand. Most importantly, IJNR knows what journalists want and need: stories. Any one of us can call up an expert for background on water or solar power or salmon biology when we need it, but by introducing us to the particular people and places where these topics play out, IJNR gives us a way to tell the stories that best communicate the complexity of these important issues. IJNR fellowships give journalists much more than lists of names for our source databases; they give us supplies of story possibilities that we can draw on for years to come.”
- Michelle Nijhuis, freelance environment writer, National Association of Science Writers
” I attended an IJNR trip in 2007 when I had been a reporter for two years. The experience shaped my understanding of how to be a good reporter because I met more experienced colleagues and watched how they worked in real settings. On my trip, I had a chance to learn how other people did the things I wanted to do, which has enabled me to do those things myself. The repercussions of the institute have been slow to unfold but significant. For me, the most educational aspect came from being in a mix of experienced and inexperienced reporters and having a chance to be in settings where we could learn from one another “on the job”–except that rather than needing to perform and write a story on deadline, the goal was to learn and have time together to untangle the how and what and why. That would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in a classroom setting.”
- Lisa Meerts, freelance writer
” I was a participant in the High Mountain Institute of (can it be??) 2007 and while I am not a working journalist (I teach journalism at Boston University) I can swear to the value of field experience over classroom experience. Putting boots on the ground in places where environmental successes or setbacks are actually taking place is invaluable in itself, but with the high-value presence of someone like Frank, who can poke and prod the journalists into seeing things from various angles and thinking about different ways to approach the subject matter, the in-the-field experience generates the kind of enthusiasm I only wish I could replicate in the classroom. Kicking up the ashes of a forest fire, meeting with ranchers and loggers and farmers in their habitats, and hiking into the hills with geologists and forestry experts makes the stories — and the journalists — come alive.
The other aspect of the Institutes that I think is so valuable is the shared experience, and the friendships and camaraderie that build during the experience. Every journalist who participates in an Institute becomes a member of a unique fraternity, if I may use that term to embrace both genders. And when the program ends and they scatter to their various communities, they stay in touch with one another and continue to share. I think there’s a feeling among the participants that they are motivated to do good work because the other Institute Fellows — and Frank and Maggie — are watching, encouraging and supporting their work. That’s a phenomenon that simply doesn’t happen in a classroom, workshop or seminar setting.
I think the concept of the Institutes is genius, an Outward Bound for journalists, and in practice the Institutes, which are wonderfully organized and professionally executed, can provide a life-changing experience for a journalist.
- Nick Mills, Associate Professor, Journalism, Boston University
” I view IJNR as being in the inspiration, education and retention business, and its multi-day immersion programs are needed more than ever in today’s media landscape that moves at the speed of a tweet.
In order to meet repeated and faced pace deadlines on multiple stories during a day or week, journalists not only can rarely get out of the office, many are conducting an increasing number of interviews via email. It seems as if even telephone conversations have become too slow and cumbersome for all the balancing and juggling that must be done.
What IJNR offers is an escape hatch, to get into the landscapes and meet the people at the center of the big natural resources issues of our time. Not only do IJNR programs put journalists together with key news makers, scientists, business leaders and the people who are most impacted by natural resource issues, they allow journalists to put all their senses to work.
They can see an old growth forest or a lake left behind by receding glaciers thousands of years ago. They can look a farmer in the eye and hear the way she speaks. They can paddle down a river with a wildlife biologist. Along the way, they find inspiration from the land and people they visit — and from their peers who join them on the journey, sometimes forging long-term professional bonds.
So they get education from IJNR speakers, as well as from their peers. And in a business that often does not reward its practitioners very well financially, an IJNR program, as modest as they are, can feel like a special perq that might keep an experienced reporter, producer or editor in the business a little longer. Or, the program might be all it takes to hook a new journalist on the field.
To be sure, the time spent with colleagues on an IJNR program enhances the shared sense of mission and purpose that many journalists who cover the environment feel. That means participants can return home feeling renewed, even as they find the reality of their work lives more challenging then ever.
And, it offers the kind of program that only a journalism organization can do with real credibility.”
- James Bruggers, environment reporter, Louisville Courier-Journal
"When I did my IJNR training I was at the beginning of my career as a public radio reporter. The hands-down best part of my IJNR experience was walking through the steps of reporting a story, along with a group of peers.
I had never “shadowed” a reporter in the field before, or even spent time with other reporters studying how they report and tell a story. Suddenly I was surrounded by twenty reporters, all reporting their stories in different, fascinating ways. As a newbie, I soaked all of this in, and studied how the other reporters interacted with their experts, how they paused in the field to record a few notes about the scene, how they would bounce their story ideas off one another during an evening meal, etc.
The IJNR experience was like shadowing twenty great reporters, for one week. This feat would be almost impossible to do in real life, and it’s certainly not something I could have done in a web seminar or in a classroom. Watching the other, more experienced reporters working in the field also gave me great inspiration, as well as practical, insightful tips about how to tell stories. The experience played a key role in helping me form my identity, and find my voice and confidence, as a young journalist.
I am truly grateful for the IJNR program and feel the experience was life-altering to my career.
- Kyle Norris, Michigan Radio host & reporter
” IJNR remains a very worthwhile organization. It is able to bring together diverse sources and give journalists extended access to these sources.
The topics IJNR chooses for its Institutes are always very important and often look at broad ecosystem issues that must be taken into account when attempting to write intelligently about a topic.
Public radio still believes in long-form, sound-rich journalism ..and no editor wants long-form stories with speeches from inside a classroom. They want “scenes” or images that engage a listener for the whole story.
IJNR’s field-based reporting helps provide those scenes.
As environmental reporters are often asked to cover other topics as well, IJNR expeditions help insure that journalists carve out time for more and better environmental stories.”
- Chuck Quirmbach, reporter, Wisconsin Public Radio
” I did IJNR’s Maine program a decade ago, just as I was starting my career as a journalist. During my program, we went behind the scenes of the fishing and timber industries, digging deep into the issues. We rode in an airplane with the largest timber owner in Maine, but we also interviewed folks who worked in the mills. We sat with the owner of an aquaculture company; but we also boated out to see the actual nets and we visited a cannery and talked to the workers. The program was totally immersive.
I credit that week with helping me launch my career. It taught me to look very closely at stories, at not only the “what,” but the “how” and the “why.” IJNR was invaluable to me, providing lessons that I have used ever since.”
- Monte Burke, staff writer, Forbes magazine, book author
“Would you know a healthy forest if you saw one? I certainly thought so before participating in IJNR’s 2002 Southern Cascade Institute. A brief stop on the Institute’s 10-day journey changed my mind about what I really knew about forests and opened my eyes to several realities about the need for active forest management. From first-hand experience, I quickly gained an understanding of the need to harvest trees and economically process the wood—for healthy forests, forest fire prevention, and economical timber harvesting. This knowledge has helped me as I write about California forest issues for Ag Alert, the state’s largest agricultural newspaper.
What I experienced in the brief stop was four forest plots intersected by roads – one site completely untreated, nearly impenetrable on foot; the second site cleaned and trimmed, but still overgrown and hard to navigate; it was easier to walk in the third site, but still too crowded to sit or walk without bumping into brush and branches. The forth site was cleared of ladder fuel, the trees were thinned by size and variety, grasses and wildflowers were sprouting – and most notably the forest was alive with sound: birds chirping, chipmunks scampering, bees humming.
If we’d had more time, I would have taken the walk through the demonstration area again, to realize more fully the silence and inaccessibility of a choked and over-grown forest. I would have come to the open forest stand with a more acute appreciation of the diversity and richness a well managed forest provides, and I would have asked many more questions about managing this invaluable national resource. I take the knowledge I gained about the need for healthy forests and the tools and science needed to attain them whenever I write about them.
This deep, personal understanding, however, can’t be gained in a classroom or through a power-point briefing in some government conference room. Being in the forest with experts to help interpret what I was seeing and experiencing was critical to my knowledge, but birdsong and wildflowers on the open forest floor also showed me more about what is at stake in our forests than any textbook. That is just one example of the knowledge and insights I gained from my fellowship with IJNR. There were many others and I’m convinced there’s no replacement for being out on the landscape with experts who provide immediate, living examples of the issues I write about every day.”
- Kate Campbell, Assistant Editor, Ag Alert/California Country
” I did an IJNR expedition in 2006 while working for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. (Energy Country Institute). Before I went, I was writing about energy having never seen it produced. During that week, I was in a coal mine and in the coal plant that burned the mine’s coal — on the same day. I was an on natural-gas rig in Wyoming’s Jonah Field, and at Chevron’s oil field in Rangely. I put my hand on a wind turbine in southern Wyoming and looked up at immense blades spinning much higher than I had imagined. There was more — these expeditions pack insane amounts of experience into a week.
These impressions alone have informed literally every energy story I’ve written in the past six years (recently I became editor of CleanEnergy.com. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve imparted a balance and human context into my energy-related stories. Thanks to INJR, I came to realize that, on the balance, there good people involved in all sorts of energy businesses. Coal may be black, but it’s not evil. I struggle less to overcome my natural biases. My stories are better and more authoritative. It might have taken me a 20 years of reporting to see the same things, and I wouldn’t have had the extremely knowledgeable guest-speakers to lean on. One of the guys who rode along with us for a couple of days is now head of EPA Region 8.
In short, INJR is a very worthy nonprofit. Its influence is hard to estimate, but it’s big.”
- Todd Neff, editor, CleanEnergy.com, book author