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SoCJ Students, WSHU Win Two Awards for Environmental Justice Reporting

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

Nine students and alumni from the School of Communication and Journalism (SoCJ) were part of a team that won one national and one regional award for a series of stories that aired on WSHU Public Radio earlier this year. The students were part of a 13-person team at WSHU to create a multi-part story, Trash Talkin’, about waste and environmental justice on Long Island. 

The awards were a Folio Award, given by the Fair Media Council, and a Continuing Coverage Award, from the Public Media Journalists Association.

“I’m so proud of our students for contributing to this incredible series and helping WSHU earn these awards,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the SoCJ and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “The partnership between the SoCJ and WSHU, and our joint commitment to solutions journalism, provides wonderful opportunities to students. Finding real, sustainable solutions to complex problems like waste management will require true partnership, approachable science and excellent communication. I am confident the journalism our students produce and contribute to makes a difference in society.”

This is the third Folio Award SoCJ students have received in partnership with WSHU since 2020. That year, the station moved its Long Island news bureau to the Stony Brook campus. The station’s internship program is one of the SoCJ’s most popular; since 2020, around 30 students have worked with the station.

“Our students poured over industry reports, state regulations and freedom of information  records to help investigate this series,” said JD Allen, WSHU managing editor, journalism instructor and 2016 SoCJ graduate. “This kind of rigorous reporting can make a real difference to a community that is overburdened by everyone else’s garbage.”

It is the first project Stony Brook students have been part of that received a PMJA award. Every year, the national association gives awards in a variety of categories to organizations of different levels and sizes. The awards recognize the diverse skill sets that bring public service journalism to life.

“This series has had real impact in the community,” said Terry Sheridan, WSHU interim co-station manager and journalism instructor. “We not only gave them a voice, we gave them a seat at the table.”

“It is our mission to share content that informs and inspires our entire region,” said Janice Portentoso, WSHU interim co-station manager. “As we witness the decline of local newspapers and other sources of reporting, this work becomes more and more important.”

For the series, the reporting team took a close look at the Brookhaven landfill, waste disposal and recycling on Long Island, and the nation’s growing problem of what to do with its trash. The series examined other municipalities’ approaches to waste management around the country. Taking a broad view of common, complex problems and how they are managed in different communities is a core part of solutions journalism. Stony Brook’s SoCJ was named one of four hub institutions by the Solutions Journalism Network in 2022.

Several of the pieces the students worked on came out of a semester-long solutions journalism project. That project resulted in a series called Trashing the Neighborhood, and was led by Allen and Sarah Baxter, visiting professor of journalism and director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. 

The students, all of whom graduated in May, are:

  • Clare Gehlich, BA journalism 
  • Sara McGiff, BA journalism 
  • Jane Montalto, BA journalism 
  • Madi Steddick, BA journalism 
  • Ashley Pavlakis, MS journalism 
  • Kelsei Radziski, MS journalism 
  • Samantha Rutt, MS journalism 
  • Ishita Sharma, MS science communication 

The alumnus is:

  • Joseph D’Alessandro, ’23 journalism

The Fair Media Council announces Folio Awards every year across several categories. In addition to those won in collaboration with WSHU, two SoCJ journalism students won awards in 2023: Keating Zelenke won a Student Feature Award for her piece, The Romance of Wooden Boats, and Maya Brown won the Sean A. Fanelli Folio for Education News for her piece, A few miles away, but worlds apart.

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