Two Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism lecturers and a recent graduate produced a growing series of stories for WSHU, a regional NPR affiliate station, about climate change on Long Island and in Connecticut.
The series, Sound Science, is part of the station’s Climate Beacon project, funded by the Solutions Journalism Network and designed to cover climate change and its impacts in a thoughtful, community-first way.
“That reporters, community leaders and activists told these stories together makes them even more powerful,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “Climate change is already impacting people everywhere, and our region is no different. It’s critical that the media helps to share information, of course, and that it brings people together to think, talk and act.”
To create the series, WSHU hosted several robust conversations that brought together activists, scientists and residents to talk about how climate change is impacting communities and ways of life in the region.
“As a climate journalist, I do a lot of storytelling that’s important but that comes from presentations on climate science and conversations with politicians about policy,” said J.D. Allen, SoCJ journalism instructor and WSHU managing editor. “Instead, we wanted to hear from real people.”
“We were hoping to have a restorative process where people would be able to make connections in their community rather than feeling like we as journalists were extracting something from them.”
Reporters put the stories together after and as a result of those conversations.
“I’m very proud of this series,” said Terry Sheridan, SoCJ journalism instructor and senior director of news and education at WSHU. “These were in-depth digital-first stories that pushed us harder as journalists.”
So far, the series explores farmworker resilience on the East End of Long Island; challenges to equitable distribution of funds to combat climate change; affordable housing and environmental impacts in Fairfield, Connecticut; and a partnership between scientists and residents in air-quality monitoring.
“We started with players that we knew who don’t have a space to have conversations about climate change: residents or real estate agents or activists or scientists. We also reached out to people we’ve never met before but who we knew of through other partners and community groups,” said Allen, a 2016 SBU journalism graduate. “We also did the ask-a-friend approach:
‘Who do you know who should be part of this?’. That helped people who were new to us feel less alone because they were bringing a friend.”
The story about farm workers was translated into Spanish, thanks to a strong partnership with Tu Prensa Local, an Eastern Long Island Spanish-language news site founded by María del Mar Piedrabuena, a 2011 journalism graduate.
Because Spanish is the primary language for many farm workers, reporters at the two outlets were eager to make the story available to as many people as possible. WSHU also collaborated with The Narrative Project, an anti-racist public relations agency in Connecticut; New York and Connecticut Sea Grant; and Stony Brook’s School of Communication and Journalism and School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences to find people who would have valuable perspectives to share.
Joshua Joseph, a 2020 journalism graduate, contributed graphics for the series.
“I am proud of the work our team accomplished,” said Rima Dael, general manager of WSHU Public Radio. “The solutions-oriented and the restorative justice approach in working with communities is creating important opportunities for on-going dialogue and collaboration for future stories.”
The Climate Beacon project is part of WSHU’s commitment to covering climate change and to solutions journalism, a form of reporting that looks at how communities try to solve similar complex problems around the country. The SoCJ is also committed to solutions journalism; the approach is integrated into journalism classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the School is one of only four Solutions Journalism Hub institutions in the U.S.