Craig Pittman
Longtime Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman speaking in 2016. Pittman was laid off this month. (Credit: Florida Sea Grant)

Heroes of another kind

Covid-19 has made heroes out of millions of healthcare workers. Here are a few reporters that have earned our thanks, too.

We're enveloped in the global Covid-19 crisis, so it may seem like an odd time to go off topic.


But I've been thinking about my environmental journalism colleagues in the same way we're thinking about healthcare workers these days: They're unappreciated, they're battling often-lethal phenomena, and they deserve more respect than they usually get.

This is on my mind because in the past month, two of my most respect-worthy colleagues no longer have jobs at two key regional newspapers.

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times took a chunk out of its own newsroom. Craig Pittman, who has focused on Florida's fragile environment for most of his three decades at the paper, was among the layoff victims.

Late last month, as I wrote a few weeks ago, Ken Ward Jr. resigned after nearly three decades as Big Coal's watchdog at the Charleston WV Gazette-Mail.

Pittman was the journalistic authority for Florida's myriad challenges—the Everglades, sea level rise in (or over) a pancake-flat state, and more.

His most recent book, Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther,was released in January.

Pittman also penned a book on the battle to save manatees and the bestselling Oh, Florida!, a compendium of the delightfully bizarre side of the Sunshine State.

Ward was the conscience of West Virginia's environment, drawing both praise and threats. He received a MacArthur Genius Grant and his unique status in journalism was featured in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2011. His resignation came on the heels of the abrupt departure of his boss, Gazette-Mail Executive Editor Greg Moore, whose job was eliminated.

Both Pittman and Ward were gracious toward their former employers. To be certain, their departure from the newspaper trade won't be the end of their contributions.

Ken Ward Jr. Ken Ward Jr. (Credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

All of which argues for more formal recognition of the beat's longtime stellar performers. Their common bonds are not just consistent, prescient and often brave reporting, but skin thick enough to endure scorn and political pressure from powerful interests—some within their own newsrooms.

Mark Schleifstein, longtime reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, says his editors derisively termed his cautionary stories as "disaster porn," until Katrina took his house and much of his city. Schleifstein has shared in three Pulitzers as the state's preeminent disaster pornographer.

Phil Shabecoff upset his New York Times editors because his coverage of a mass slaughter of dolphins by Japanese fishermen used the word "slaughter."

Ward was one of many journalists sued by excitable coal baron Robert Murray. Dozens of journalists have endured relentless harassment by climate deniers and fossil fuel interests.

So why not take a page from the Oscars and recognize ink/electron-stained reporters with an annual Lifetime Achievement Award? Lesser callings have no problem with this: The Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award honors a country music singer-songwriter each year and has nothing to do with the other thing Willie Nelson's famous for; the Mickey Rooney Award honors former child stars who avoided ruining themselves in adulthood (Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers is a Rooney Laureate); and the Bram Stoker Award is given to high-achieving horror writers.

Pittman and Ward are not the only professionals with three or more decades on the beat. Casey Bukro toiled for years at the Chicago Tribune; Rae Tyson was the charter environment reporter when USA Today debuted in 1982 and previously reported for the Niagara Gazette as the Love Canal story broke; Charles Seabrook at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; the late Paul MacLennan at the Buffalo News; Dennis Dimick at National Geographic; Marla Cone did groundbreaking reporting on toxics at the Los Angeles Times and later edited these pages.

These are just a few among the dozens of environment reporters deserving of some respect for careers well spent.

So consider this and hug an environmental reporter for me.

Not now, but maybe in a few months, when it's once again safe.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences. Contact him at pdykstra@ehn.org or on Twitter at @Pdykstra.

Wildlife faces new challenges with large-scale solar energy projects

Researchers are studying how utility-scale solar developments in New Mexico impact pronghorn and other wildlife to find ways to mitigate negative effects.

Sarah Tory reports for High Country News.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
Air pollution kills nearly 2,000 children daily worldwide: Study
Credit: Hornbeam Arts/Flickr

Air pollution kills nearly 2,000 children daily worldwide: Study

A recent study reveals that air pollution is now the second leading cause of death among children under five globally, overtaking poor sanitation and lack of clean water.

Fiona Harvey reports for The Guardian.

Keep reading...Show less
environmental justice

LISTEN: Revisiting our conversation with environmental justice pioneer Dr. Beverly Wright

Today we’re re-airing our conversation with Dr. Beverly Wright, who joined the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast last year to discuss her journey as an environmental justice pioneer.

Keep reading...Show less
extreme heat disaster designation
Credit: VladisChern/BigStock Photo ID: 198752527

Labor and environmental groups push FEMA to classify extreme heat as a major disaster

A coalition of labor, environmental, and healthcare organizations is urging FEMA to classify extreme heat and wildfire smoke as major disasters, aiming to unlock federal funds for community protection and worker safety.

Manuela Andreoni reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less
eu nature restoration law
Credit: catcha/BigStock Photo ID:456142131

Austria’s last-minute support enables EU Nature Restoration Law

After months of deadlock, the EU's Nature Restoration Law passed, driven by a crucial change of heart from Austria.

Marta Pacheco reports for Euronews.

Keep reading...Show less

Canada passes Bill C-226 to combat environmental racism

Canada's new Bill C-226 aims to develop a national strategy to address environmental racism and ensure affected communities are part of the solution.

Denise Balkissoon reports for The Narwhal.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
nurses climate change

Op-ed: In a warming world, nurses heal people and the planet

Nurses have the experience, motivation and public support to make an important contribution in tackling the climate crises.

planetary health diet

This diet will likely keep you alive longer — and help the planet

New research finds the Planetary Health Diet lowers our risk to most major causes of death.

environmental justice

LISTEN: Jose Ramon Becerra Vera on democratizing science

“In their own way, they’re becoming experts, not just of their experiences but also of the data collection process.”

The oil and gas industry’s radioactive problem: Q&A with Justin Nobel

The oil and gas industry’s radioactive problem: Q&A with Justin Nobel

“Of all the levels of radium in produced water or brine around the world that I’ve looked at, I have encountered none that are consistently as high as what comes out of the Marcellus Shale.”

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.