Freelance journalists toil in isolation and obscurity. The isolation comes with the territory: After the excitement of the research – travel to exotic destinations, interviews with specialists, online exploration – it’s you, a blank screen and one word at a time. Obscurity is a little more complicated. As journalists, our bylines are out there, of course. But feedback is surprisingly scant and most reliable when it’s negative.
So when recognition comes, lifting the dual cloaks of isolation and obscurity, it’s as much a deer-in-the-headlights moment as it is a thrill.
Winnie Bird and I have received the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 2014 Outstanding Feature award for “A Tale of Two Forests: Addressing Postnuclear Radiation at Chernobyl and Fukushima.” It appeared in Environmental Health Perspectives in March 2013. I view this honor as a tribute to many scientists who gave us so much of their time and expertise, fine editing by Susan Booker, and my collaboration and friendship with Winnie.
Here’s what the judges had to say:
As the cliché goes, you can’t know where you are headed unless you know where you’ve been, which is what makes “Tale of Two Forests” both an exceedingly vital and original piece of environmental feature writing. The best stories are those that make other journalists wish they had thought of it first, and that’s certainly the case with their compelling and meticulously researched examination of how the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl should — but isn’t necessarily — guiding the actions of those cleaning up after Japan’s Fukushima meltdown.
We dedicate this award to the people of Chernobyl and Fukushima who lost lives, livelihoods, homes and the places they love.