Spring 2005

Water: A Life Force Harnessed as News

Water is the essence of life, and its cleanliness, availability, and our use and abuse of it are stories meriting reporters’ and editors’ attention. Yet as Stuart Leavenworth, who covered water issues for The Sacramento Bee and describes the wide array of issues he took on, reports: “To my chagrin, I had the beat largely to myself for four years. Across the country, papers have tackled problems of water pollution and degradation, but have overlooked fundamental issues of supply—and sustainability. This is curious.” – Melissa Ludtke, Editor

Reporting On Water: U.S. and International Coverage
Introduction
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
Why Journalists Need to Cover the Water Story (1 comment)
It’s the economy, stupid.
By Stuart Leavenworth
By Its Absence Water Becomes a Big Story
‘I try to focus my coverage on people whose lives intersect with water.’
By Seth Hettena
No Agua, No Vida
A photographer chronicles the slow death of the Colorado River Delta.
By John Trotter
Covering Water When It’s a Commodity
‘Tracking the battles over water isn’t a beat—it’s a career.’
By Mark Grossi
The Owens Lake Project
Compiled by David Maisel
Finding Necessary Evidence to Back Up a Tip
A 17-month investigation about drinking water pollution prompts action.
By Scott Streater
Investigating Washington, D.C.’s Water Quality
With lead levels endangering health, public agencies kept test results from consumers.
By D’Vera Cohn
Local TV Investigates Who Is Polluting the Water (1 comment)
A series of news reports found city agencies ignoring their own regulations and illegally polluting water in Dallas.
By Paul Adrian
Connecting Coastal Growth With the Gulf of Mexico’s Decay
‘Not everything is black and white, nor do the words legal and illegal do justice to these issues.’
By Eric Staats
Complexity Makes Ocean Fishing a Tough Story
‘… the more I learned about fishing, the less clarity there seemed.’
By Beth Daley
Monitoring Colorado’s Ongoing Feuds About Water
With a drought and expanding population, coverage of water gains importance.
By Jerd Smith
The Story of Water Told in a Tale of Two Towns
Developing the narrative thread relied on finding key characters and weaving their experiences into the article’s focus on water.
By Todd Hartman
Motion and Sound Tell the Online Story in New Ways
By Sonya Doctorian
Creating Digital Newsbooks
Newspapers use them to bring enterprise reporting to a new audience on the Web.
By Roger Fidler
How to Read Digital Newsbooks
By Roger Fidler
Engaging Viewers in Conflicts About Water
Filmmakers invite ‘viewers to commit themselves for a while to the characters on screen and the choices they make.’
By Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman
Reporting on Water as a Global Story
A network of international journalists produced multimedia reports on the consequences of privatizing water.
By William Marsden
When Water and Political Power Intersect
A journalist probes the story of water privatization in Jakarta, Indonesia.
By Andreas Harsono
Using Narrative to Tell Stories About Water
‘The imperatives of narrative nonfi ction carried me like a current to the book’s last words.’
By Jacques Leslie
Reporting on Dams in Dictator-Run Countries
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Reporting From the Nation of the Nile
A journalist describes approaches to and experiences with coverage of Egypt’s water issues.
By Nadia El-Awady
When Coverage of a Water Crisis Vanishes
‘Unless there is a real and apparent danger … reporters will find it hard to convince editors to dedicate time and space for water stories.’
By Zafrir Rinat
Water Surfaces as a Story Only When It Floods
Three years after the Elbe River flood, ‘it is even harder to get these topics back into the news.’
By Dagmar Dehmer
Mainstream News Reporting Ignores Critical Water Issues
In India, ‘reportage on this complex subject has regressed to its earlier character—unsophisticated and immature.’
By Rakesh Kalshian
Educating Journalists in Nepal About Sanitation and Water Issues (2 comments)
By bringing awareness and information to reporters, stories about these topics are starting to be told.
By Soniya Thapa
Curator’s Corner
Continuity of Change at the Nieman Foundation
‘While its ideals are deeply rooted in the core mission, the foundation could never afford to stand still.’
By Bob Giles
Tsunami Coverage
Introduction
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
Taking on a Traumatic Reporting Assignment in Southern Thailand
‘… the smell of the dead bodies is something you just don’t know without having been through it before.’
By Kavi Chongkittavorn
A Question of Representation
‘When no reporters, photographers or news editors come from the fishing community, it is unlikely this community’s problems will be understood ….’
By S. Anand
Media Bias in Covering the Tsunami in Aceh
‘Indonesian journalists do not understand Aceh stories from the Acehnese perspective.’
By Andreas Harsono
Reporting From a ‘Calamity That Defies Description’
A tight focus on individuals allowed a U.S. journalist and photographer to present ‘these people in scenes that began to form chapters in a narrative.’
By Richard Read
Global Journalism About a Regional Catastrophe
The need for cross-cultural sensitivity is one lesson a journalist took away from his coverage of the tsunami.
By V.S. Sambandan
Arriving at the Digital News Age
‘It is in this fusion of old and new that the future of journalism most probably lies.’
By Simon Waldman
Managing the Army of Temporary Journalists
Eyewitness online reporting about the tsunami complements coverage by mainstream news organizations.
By Steve Outing
Words & Reflections
Introduction
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
A Prayer for Quality Journalism as Public Media Corporations Focus on Margin and Financial Return
In crunching the numbers, an author argues that investment is necessary to secure a future for news—in newspapers or on the Internet.
By Lou Ureneck
The Precarious State of Television News
‘We’re going to have to completely reinvent it—not only the substance, but the way in which we interact with our audience.’
By Rebecca MacKinnon
Technology Might Return Journalism to Its Roots
Two books set forth causes for concern about U.S. news media, and one of the authors speaks to the Internet’s possibilities for rejuvenating journalism’s promise.
By David DeJean
An Indefatigable Investigative Reporter
Seymour Hersh ‘still comes through as an outsider hungry for the latest scraps of news.’
By John Herbers
‘Perilous Times’ for First Amendment Rights
Editors must ‘send the clear signal—and offer the necessary support—to make the coverage of government secrecy a priority in their newsrooms.’
By Maggie Mulvihill
Documenting Government Secrecy
By Sarah Hagedorn
Freedom and Liberty: Tough Stories to Tell
‘When freedom and orthodoxy collide, it’s interesting to note how the press behaves.’
Adapted from a presentation by William F. Woo
The New York Times’s Travails in the Reign of Raines
‘As the ship veered onto the rocks, those who voiced warnings were ignored, while the bosses told each other how smart they were.’
By David Nyhan
Strong Narrative Writing Features Character
‘Like all the great narrative journalists, [Mark] Bowden must be a relentless asker of questions, a painstaking gatherer of minute detail.’
By Russell Frank
Iraq War Documentaries Fill a Press Vacuum
‘… filmmakers have become a source of alternative explanations for the war in Iraq and the news coverage of it, as well as critics of the administration’s policies.’
By Lorie Conway
When People’s Suffering is Portrayed as Art
Sebastião Salgado’s photographs ‘represent everything that is meaningful, controversial and difficult about “concerned photography.”’
By Michele McDonald
Nieman Notes
Frank del Olmo’s Words Are a Tribute to His Life
While he ‘wrote through Latino eyes, the core themes he explored in his columns—the quest for truth and justice—are universal.’
By Frank O. Sotomayor
‘Commentaries on His Times’
Excerpts from “Frank del Olmo: Commentaries on His Times"
A Photojournalist Returns to Vietnam
‘… I finally got to make some peaceful and quiet pictures.’
By Steve Northup