We’re Still Standing

We lost a few fellows, a few publications and even a few jobs between
Los Angeles and Chicago. Bobby was on crutches, and Huascar was down
for the count. Had it really been just three months? But as we
convened in the Executive Suite of the Hilton Homewood Suites on
Sunday afternoon, there was good news, too. Warren Vieth from Gaylord
College at the Univ. of Oklahoma joined us as a new project director.
Vieth, a former White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times specializing in economic policy,  is now a visiting professor at Gaylord. Pending funding, he will lead a week long fellowship program
next spring on coverage of “Immigration in the Heartland.”

IJJ’s Environmental Justice Fellows shared updates on their projects:

Julio Cesar Ortiz told us of the week he’d spent filming the lives of Los
Angeles port area truckers, putting flesh and blood on the grim
statistics about pollution, asthma, and long hours for little pay. He
and his camera man spent the night with one family, rising at 2 am
with the husband to begin the long, dreary day. He listened to the
wife recount her struggles at home, and documented how the job is
tearing at the cohesion of their marriage. In another instance, one of
the many mechanics who “fix” the illegally old, dangerous trucks
freely admitted on camera that he and others like him are the
“coyotes” of the ports, taking cash to get Mexican immigrant truckers
on the road again with little regard for human health and safety, just
as “coyotes” take cash from those desperate to cross the border
between Mexico and the U.S., with little regard for human life.
Julio’s work is expected to result in a four part series for Univision
in Los Angeles.

Brentin Mock and Phoebe Connelly filled us in on the Anacostia River project.
Brentin dove deep into tangled bureaucracies to figure out what
exactly is polluting this river that runs through one of Washington,
D.C.’s historic black communities. He also traced the flow of
pollutants from wealthier, white communities up river, and tried to
ascertain whether grassroots groups committed to river clean up will
receive any of the stimulus fund largess being doled out a few miles
away by federal bureaucrats. Phoebe emphasized the “policy”
framework of The American Prospect magazine, where Brentin’s work is
expected to run. That framework is driving both reporter and editor to
focus not just on the environmental abuses apparent in the river’s
diseased fish, for instance, but the federal policies that allowed the
abuses and might or might not provide solutions.

Edwin Buggage said he had condensed his proposed, four part series about life in New Orleans post-Katrina into one long piece, and a second, shorter
dispatch.  The pieces have already run in his Data News Weekly and he
will make them available for the fellows to read.  He is also in
discussions with CNN about possible use of some of the work for a
“Toxic City” segment on the fifth anniversary of the disastrous
hurricane. Edwin said he was also determined to use his work to
galvanize city residents to take care of lingering environmental
problems themselves, rather than waiting for unresponsive government
officials to do it.

Kari Lydersen had a great trip to New Orleans, and has separately written two stories for the Washington Post.  The first was about Vietnamese-American residents
deeply concerned about a nearby landfill possibly leaking groundwater
contamination into their community food garden. The second chronicled
Native Americans losing coastal wetlands that they have long relied
upon for trapping and other traditional activities. She will be
writing a longer piece based on this reporting for Colorlines magazine
this fall, using photos and video for an online version as well.

Huascar Robles has done in-depth reporting for his project on coal ash waste
near a small, rural Puerto Rico community.  Residents there shared stories of frequent asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.  Huascar learned through document digging and interviews with agency officials that neither the U.S. EPA nor Puerto Rico’s Enivironmental Quality Board has tested the ash at this site, despite recent federal findings about the high risk of coal ash exposure. He’s continuing to dig.

Talia Whyte faced a double whammy: her Boston newspaper has suspended publication, and the ex-offender food programs she had arranged to profile have lost
funding. She will probably profile Boston’s most successful food
justice advocate instead. Devin Robins will move forward with the first part
of her proposed radio series on community activism and emerging
solutions to environmental problems in America’s poorest congressional
districts.  Because of a move back to Los Angeles from Washington,
D.C.,  she is seeking production space, but has several stations
interested in potentially airing her work.

The considerable economic challenges being faced by many of our
journalism fellows brought home the major shifts underway in American
media. Nonetheless, it was good to hear updates on these fine
projects. We adjourned to a wonderful dinner with past IJJ fellows,
Bobby’s parents, and Mark Hallett, senior program officer for
McCormick Foundation, and his wife, Carmen. The IJJ EJ fellowship was made
possible due to Mark’s commitment to coverage of environmental justice
issues, and the foundation’s support.

–Janet Wilson, Senior Fellow for Environmental Justice