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SoCJ students’ work about waste equity adapted for WSHU series

Protesters at the Brookhaven landfill holding signs that say Closed Means Closed
Protesters at the Brookhaven landfill holding signs that say Closed Means Closed
Protesters at the Brookhaven landfill. Photo by Jez Coulson, used with permission

A team of graduate students from the School of Communication and Journalism spent a lot of time this year talking about garbage, specifically the tons of trash dumped in the Brookhaven landfill. Their work, published on the Stony Brook Media Showcase, has now been updated and included in Trash Talkin’, a WSHU Public Radio series.

The story, “Trashing the Neighborhood,” takes an in-depth look at the Brookhaven landfill, the town’s plans to close the dump, and residents’ fight to clean up and protect their community. The piece was the result of a semester-long reporting project by a team of journalism and science communication students. 

Sarah Baxter, visiting journalism professor and director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting, and JD Allen, journalism instructor and WSHU managing editor, co-lead the project.

“Our graduate students were hugely committed to this investigation, working together to reveal the problems associated with the landfill while exploring sustainable solutions to Long Island’s waste, which go beyond simply dumping the problem on other underserved communities,” said Baxter. “I’m enormously proud of their work.”

The reporting, including trips to an Earth Day march, a community garden and the landfill itself, was the SoCJ’s latest piece of solutions journalism, an approach to reporting that emphasizes looking for and analyzing community-driven solutions to common problems. In 2022, the School of Communication and Journalism was named one of the first four national hub institutions by the Solutions Journalism Network

“Often, journalism follows crisis and conflict. But problems don’t happen in a vacuum — there’s a rippling effect throughout communities,” said Allen, a 2016 graduate of the SoCJ. “We are reporting on the responses to the collapse of waste management on Long Island. This helps our audience draw insight from more equitable ways to reduce, reuse and recycle without jeopardizing environmental or community health.” 

The students’ reporting is being included as part of WSHU’s broader effort to tell the story of the landfill, waste disposal and recycling on Long Island, and the nation’s growing problem of where to store its garbage. The local National Public Radio affiliate station, whose Long Island bureau is on the Stony Brook campus, is releasing the Trash Talkin’ series throughout the summer. The series was supported in part by the Solutions Journalism Network.

“It was like doing a research paper but in a more fun, investigative way. We did our investigations and research and pooled our knowledge together to tell that larger piece,” said Ishita Sharma, a science communication master’s student from New Hyde Park, NY. “I hope that more than anything this piece is a starting point of inspiration for people. There’s a sense of empowerment that comes from the knowledge of this story and the number of people who are physically affected by it. For me, the names Brookhaven or Bellport aren’t just names on a map anymore.”

This is not the first time SoCJ students have worked alongside WSHU: several students worked on both seasons of the award-winning Higher Ground podcast, and a 2021 project about the legacy of slavery on Long Island aired on the station as well. Every semester, WSHU staff select a few journalism and mass communication students to complete internships at the station as well. 

“The partnership between the SoCJ and WSHU, and our joint commitment to solutions journalism, provides so many wonderful opportunities to our students to explore community problems and problem-solving processes and to gain hands-on experience with audio reporting and media,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the SoCJ and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “Now, these same opportunities are being expanded, with heightened expectations, for our graduate students. We know that finding real, sustainable solutions to complex problems like waste management will require excellent communication, true partnership, and approachable science. Stories and students like these can help make a difference for individuals and communities.”

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