Today is the last day of my fellowship. I can't believe it's already been nine months - the time went so incredibly fast. It's been a wonderful experience - I'd almost go so far as to say magical - and I'm sad to see it end. This is one of those situations in life where you get out of it what you put into it and I feel like I poured a lot of energy and time and heart and soul in. What I got out of it was an exponentially larger return on investment.
All the fellows were asked to write up an evaluation of our time here - some of my answers are below. It's hard to summarize the experience in such a small space but, suffice it to say, I feel infinitely richer for my time here.
1. Courses: How do you think these might help you with your environmental journalism?
I think they help tremendously. My biggest weakness was lack of solid baseline knowledge – I feel much more comfortable with environmental subjects (especially when it comes to natural resources and energy) now that I’ve had these courses. I also now have a tremendous number of contacts I can reach out to when I have questions.
2. Independent Project: Here is where you should describe the work you’ve done.
When I applied for the Scripps Fellowship, I said I wanted to gain a better understanding of wildfire in the American West. It has always been part of the environment here but with climate change and drought, it is permanently altering the landscape and it’s doing so in a much shorter period of time.
It was a big topic – more than I could tackle in just this year and it was very similar to the book that Michael is writing. But I ended up finding a narrower focus within this topic, looking specifically at the problem of development in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and the repercussions that has had for both people and forests.
I wrote two articles on this topic. One was for Newsweek, about the Black Forest Fire, which was one of the most destructive in Colorado’s history, partially because of a history of forest mismanagement, partially because of where people are living and partially because of the attitudes of the locals toward mitigation and preparedness. It’s an example of what is becoming a very expensive problem all across the west. The story appeared in the February 13 edition of the magazine, as well as online.
The second article is for Outside Magazine. It looks at the issue of controlled burns, which are an incredibly useful tool for land managers but can also have some terrible consequences if they get out of control. That article is to be published in the July edition of the magazine.
Another project is unrelated to fire but grew from an interesting presentation by James Edward Mills, one of our seminar guests. He talked to us about the lack of diversity in outdoor activities. Out of that conversation, I created and pitched a series to NPR’s Code Switch Team. I’m working closely with reporter Shereen Meraji as the editor and producer on five or six stories – the first one ran in February, pegged to the National Brotherhood of Skiers and the Black Ski Summit, which was held in Aspen at the end of February. The remaining stories will run this summer on Weekend Edition with Rachel Martin – the series is called “Race + Recreation”.
3. Please share any other comments about the program, general or specific that you might have.
This program gave me the opportunity to really dig into a subject that I care about deeply. I’d been working in general news for years and hadn’t had the time/opportunity to work on many environmental stories. This year will give me a lot more leverage to report on these kinds of topics. Additionally, I’d been doing radio for my entire journalism career. I specifically focused on doing print while at CU because I wanted to try something new. It would have been much, much harder to experiment with a different kind of journalism if I hadn’t been in this program.
In short, I can’t say enough good things. This has, hands down, been one of the best years of my life. To have the opportunity to go back to classes, to have unlimited access to professors and scientists and journalists, to have the time to think and write and reflect – it was truly a gift. I also had a great group of fellows who were enthusiastic learners (and bowlers and beer-drinkers) and game for just about anything.
4. How do you think you might approach environmental subjects differently in light of your fellowship experiences?
With more confidence. I always felt a bit shaky on the science, given that I don’t have a science/environment background, but the fellowship helped me a) get some more basic knowledge and b) realize that it’s possible to write about these topics in a smart, interesting way – even without a PhD in physics or biology.
5. In what other Journalism & Mass Communication/College of Media, Communication and Information activities or events have you been a participant?
I helped start a podcast with the graduate students of the CEJ. It was something of an ambitious project but the goal was to help them have an audio story as one of their clips and to have a good, final product that they could then shop around to get university support and funding.
6. What activities have you and/or your family enjoyed as the result of living in Boulder and in Colorado?
Oh man. Where to begin. The hiking, for starters – Chautauqua is a short walk from where my boyfriend & I are living. Mount Sanitas. The Table Mesa trail. Then there’s Eldora – we went skiing there multiple times. With the fellows (some current, some former), we took trips up to Devil’s Thumb Ranch to go cross-country skiing. We hit up the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden. Visited multiple breweries here in town and in Longmont and Fort Collins. Went to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the elk. Took a trip to Paonia in spring. Skied at Aspen (!). Swam at El Dorado Springs. Snowshoed up to one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts at Berthoud Pass for an overnight trip. Shopped at that fantastic farmers’ market. Watched the bronc riders at the Western Stock Show. Went to Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland. Squeezed in a little culture at the Denver Museum of Art. Made lots of new friends and had tons of happy hours, dinners, bbqs, potlucks and parties with all of them.
7. What do you plan to do after the fellowship program is over?
Wait – it’s over?
I’ve got a number of plans in the works. I’m not ready to go back to a full-time office job yet – I’d like to continue to do more writing but also do some radio projects. I’ll be working with a former fellow who’s now at High Country News, to help develop a possible podcast. I’m also going to be collaborating on an independent radio project called “I See Change” that crowdsources climate change and marries it with data from NASA. I’ll finish working with NPR on the “Race + Recreation” series that we launched in February – there will be 5 pieces total, running in August on Weekend Edition. I’ll be editing and producing, as well as writing web copy. And I’ve got a couple of my own writing projects in the works.