Sarah Coefield has been a reporter with the Great Lakes Echo since May 2009. She also works as an editorial intern for Environmental Health News. Before coming to the Echo, Sarah climbed trees and pestered great horned owls as part of her master’s research in environmental toxicology. Sarah is originally from Montana and completed her undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.
Canadian federal environment officials are explicitly covered by an entry in Echo’s reporters’ guide: “We like Canadians. But good heavens they have an incredible government bureaucracy. You need a Canadian government source? Get hustling early in the reporting.”
That’s why I was unsurprised to read criticism of Environment Canada’s lack of transparency in the Sept. 25 Montreal Gazette.
When Echo launched a little more than a year ago, our intent was to upend the Great Lakes basin with a journalism that looked at the environment in an innovative manner. At the same time we vowed to remain faithful to fundamental values of fairness, accuracy, credibility. So we’re happy to report that the Society of Professional Journalists has named an Echo report on water pollution from coal plants as a national finalist for an online in-depth journalism award. The four-day Cleaning Coal series by Sarah Coefield, Elisabeth Pernicone, Yang Zhang and Rachael Gleason examined how clean air has come at the cost of dirty water and why coal-fired power plant waste water is poorly regulated. It previously won an SPJ regional award.
A couple weeks ago Echo marked its first anniversary. The evolution has been fast, the learning curve steep. It’s hard to find the time to stop and take stock of what’s been accomplished. But here’s a good excuse:
Environmental news stories written for Great Lakes Echo and other publications of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism are among those recently recognized at the 2009 Region 4 Mark of Excellence Society of Professional Journalists contest. Among the Echo winners:
Online In-Depth Reporting
First Place: Cleaning Coal – by Sarah Coefield, Elisabeth Pernicone, Yang Zhang and Rachael Gleason
Third Place: Public Pools, Public Health – by Haley Walker, Alice Rossignol and Emma Ogutu
Best Independent Online Student Publication
Second Place: Great Lakes Echo
Online Feature Reporting
Third Place: Lake Huron sinkholes – by Sarah Coefield
Recognition of the Knight Center’s print publication, EJ Magazine:
Non-Fiction Magazine Article
First Place: Food Not Waste: Three Decades at the Center of a Movement – by Haley Walker
Second Place: When Grass Isn’t Green: Marijuana farms on public lands aren’t kind to the environment – by Andrew Norman
Best Student Magazine
Second Place: EJ Magazine
Recognition of the Knight Center’s television production efforts:
Television In-Depth Reporting
First Place: The Night Shift – by Sarah Coefield, Mary Hansen, Marla Kalmbach, Lou D’Aria
Here at the Knight Center we’re proud not only of these quality reporting efforts, but of the diversity of media they represent.
The ice is back, and it’s filling the newsites and blogosphere with echoes of the 1980s. Happily it has nothing to do with a certain rapper. No, the St. Clair River is once again stoppered by a miles-long ice jam. The last time the river was this backed up was 1984. That ice jam was 20 miles long and blocked the passage for 24 days. It was recently eyed as one of the causes for Lake Huron’s falling water levels. The new ice jam is considerably shorter (a measly 9 miles) and the ice cutters are already racing to the rescue. Still, ice jams can damage a river bed in a relatively short period of time. The river water forced under the ice cover is moving fast. Remember when you were a kid playing with the garden hose and you covered half the opening with your thumb and then chased your siblings around with the super-powered water spout? Yeah. It’s something like that. Only instead of terrorizing children, the water is scraping the river bottom clean of sediment and generally messing things up.
Under the category “Cool Things on the Web”, I’d like to file the Great Lakes virtual tour by NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. The tour uses a Google Earth plugin and narration to navigate the Lakes. My favorite part of the tour is the Lake Huron sinkholes by the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. I wrote a series of articles on the sinkholes last summer, and am always pleased to give them a shout out. The tour works fine online, but if you have Google Earth on your computer you can download the tour and make better use of some of its features. This is particularly handy if you want to watch some of the accompanying videos or check out photos. Otherwise, the site lists the videos below the plugin, so you can watch them on YouTube. This is a great site for a refresher on some of the more interesting geologic and historical features around the Lakes. At a little more than 13 minutes it might seem like a long commitment (especially by Web standards), but I think you’ll enjoy it. You might even learn something new about our Lakes.
Help Echo turn the Great Lakes basin on its ear and shake up journalism.
Perhaps the greatest change you’ll notice in this Echo redesign is that reporters will ask for your help, tell you about reporting challenges and empty their notebooks of those odds and ends that otherwise never quite become stories.
But expect us to stick with the Echo core concept: We’re a news community that transcends political borders and is defined by a global resource. Check out how we intend to do an even better job of that.
One of my sources, a scientist at the Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon, Mich., recently chided me for writing about the Great Lakes from the middle of Michigan here in East Lansing. How could we properly relate to the Lakes when we are so far away, he wondered. It got me thinking. Does he have point? The Great Lakes Echo is hardly on the beach. According to Daft Logic’s handy Google Maps distance calculator, the Echo newsroom is 71 miles from Lake Huron, 82 miles from Lake Erie, 88 miles from Lake Michigan, 236 miles from Lake Ontario and 258 miles from Lake Superior as the crow flies. And as long we we’re being honest, in the six years I’ve lived here, I’ve only been to two of the Great Lakes. But do you have to be on a Lake to feel connected to it? They influence state policies, provide research opportunities for our universities, influence our weather patterns, draw tourists and their cash, and make this region of North America just a little more unique. I don’t have to be on the beach to remember that I’m surrounded by massive freshwater seas. But Michigan is unique. We have more Great Lake shoreline than any other state. How connected do the folks in Indiana feel to their tip of Lake Michigan? What about Minnesota, with a side-swipe of Lake Superior? Or Pennsylvania, the state with the least amount of Lake shoreline? We’re all in the same basin, we share invasive species and federal policies, but does everyone feel a connection to the Lakes?
By Sarah Coefield and Kimberly Hirai
Jan. 26, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on how new technology is giving researchers a glimpse of the critical nearshore area of the Great Lakes. Little is known about the currents, fish or bottom of the nearshore area of the Great Lakes. Now, technology is providing researchers a window into what is one of the most productive yet least studied areas of the Lakes. The nearshore stretches from the beach into about 30 feet of water.