Water Concerns in 2013

In our lifetime, we are seeing water develop into the most relevant issue of the 21st century. Climate change, urbanization, industrialization, privatization, and rapid population growth in vulnerable areas of the world increasingly stress the water cycle as well as human’s ability to find access to this vital resource. This past week I got the chance to see James Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice at the Michigan Theater. There are a couple more dates it is showing, and I highly recommend everybody try to go see it in theaters. It provides a good chance to reflect on how visual evidence can create a powerful impact on how people understand and react to climate change. Here’s the schedule of the Michigan Theater: http://www.michtheater.org/schedule/

For the blog reflection this week, I would like to highlight this article from Circle of Blue (http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2013/world/water-news-whats-ahead-in-2013/), reporting and predicting on how the US and the world will interact with water issues in 2013. Does this article communicate the urgency of water issues to the general public? Granting that it is an overview, does the organization of the article work? Does it do a good job representing water issues across the world? What would you change about the structure or content of this article to create a more compelling story? As an audience member, how does its message affect you?

If you’re interested, the same news site created an interactive “infogramic” of how the great lakes are being affected by climate change. http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2012/world/infographic-climate-change-in-the-great-lakes/

And as an extra, slightly unrelated bonus, here is a Jon Stewart clip titled “Investigating Investigative Journalism” http://www.hulu.com/watch/445525


About mauraniemisto

I am a senior at the University of Michigan with a concentration in Program in the Environment. I also have minors in International Studies and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

13 Responses to “Water Concerns in 2013”

  1. I think this is the article you wanted us to look at: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2013/world/water-news-whats-ahead-in-2013/

    While the article has a lot of important information and is introducing the public to necessary concerns that will be faced in the upcoming year, it throws too much at the reader. An overview of water issues, energy issues, what is being done about it, how goods (like coal and gas) should be or will be transferred, and what the arts is saying about it is just too much information to take in so quickly.

    For the most part, there wasn’t enough information about any of the many topics discussed to leave me concerned about the issue or even feeling informed. It didn’t seem to be a cohesive piece and though it was an overview, it left me wondering more about almost everything I read about. More background was needed for almost everything that was presented. For some topics, a paragraph just isn’t enough.

    I will say that the author was wise in dividing the article in to sections but I think these sections would have benefited from clearer titles rather than vague or clever titles (Moving dirt (and water)). I was also confused as to why the portion on the arts was included. It seemed out of place and disconnected from the rest of the piece.

    Although I have pretty much panned this piece I would like to be fair in saying that I don’t think I could have written it any better. The article has too much content and too little focus. If asked to write a brief article and include the same information I am sure I would be guilty of the same mistakes I have pointed out above.

    Out of curiosity, who is generally reading circle blue? If it is a more environmentally educated audience then the lack of explanation on some of the topics is much more forgivable but as someone who only has a little bit of background knowledge, I could have benefited from further explanation.

  2. Great points, all around! I’m the newsdesk editor for Circle of Blue, and “who is our audience?” is definitely something that we struggle with. Sometimes our audience are government officials and environment/water policy wonks who know all the ins and outs of water. (We tend to cater to this demographic, in my opinion.) Sometimes our audience is more people like Chelsea, who don’t have a lot of background on water-related issues.

    I wonder if it would be possible for you (both) to point out your pros and cons of the article on our website in the comments section, as well? Your input is greatly valued by our team, and it helps us to gauge our audience and to improve our writing. Thanks! Aubrey Ann Parker

    • Hey, Aubrey. Thanks for weighing in on this! It would be interesting to hear more about how people at Circle of Blue try to measure the impact of their stories. Could you share some analytics about the site or even this specific story? Can you tell us anything about where the readers are?

      Just for reference, this blog has had readers in 34 countries in the past year — from Austria to Bhutan, Indonesia to Ireland. We’re officially encouraging everyone to join the conversation!

      Speaking of conversation, Aubrey will you be able to join us on Friday? We’re going to lunch at Silvio’s Pizza. It’s Restaurant Week in Ann Arbor, $7.50 for a three-course lunch. Enticing, no?

      Do you want to share any info in advance about internships at Circle of Blue?

      So great to see you doing such good work there, just a few years after you were a student in our class!

      • Measuring impact: good question. It depends on the story.

        For instance, for our Choke Point: China series (February 2011-present), we not only measure the impact of who/how many people read it and where they are from, but we also have a partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum (in D.C.), with which we do various presentations around the world. One presentation at a university in China had more than 1,000 people in attendance! Much fewer in numbers but higher on the policy-wonk scale, our CPC work was presented in a congressional hearing last year http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2012/world/choke-point-china-findings-cited-in-senate-hearing/

        To continue using CPC as an example, here are some of the metrics around this, as far as hits to our Web site, etc. (One thing to note is that they can’t use Google in China, so we’ve had to try catering to Chinese using different search engines, not just Google Ad Words, etc. Likewise, they can’t use Twitter. So that has presented some challenges, but we’re doing our best to work around them: also, we’ve had about four of our 15 CPC stories translated and published on our site in Chinese, and we’re currently going for grant money to get all of the stories translated, which will help with viewership in China, as well.)

        Published in May 2011, the first food-related CPC story we did is our fourth highest viewed page/story of all time (http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2011/world/chinas-other-looming-choke-point-food-production/) with 16k hits in 2011 and 27k in 2012. Our CPC page that houses all the stories (http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/featured-water-stories/choke-point-china/) is our 19th highest viewed page/story of all time with 6,600 in 2011 and 7,600 in 2012. Number 20 is the very first CPC story in the package, posted in February 2011, and had 8,600 in 2011 and 2,600 in 2012. Because our CPC food story did so well (and is continuing to do so well), that helped to steer our reporting: the first round of reporting we did on China’s water-energy problem (February – May 2011) didnt deal much with food, but food is a major part of the water-food-energy nexus that we report on. So we obtained grants to go back to China in 2012, and our CPC II package had three parts: one fracking/shale gas story, and two food stories (they all just published in November, December, and January, respectively).

      • Ok, sorry, but I figured that I should start a new section that deals with our site hits/visits in general, after giving that very specific China example…

        Since I’ve been working here, this is what the numbers look like:

        Visitors to our site:
        2009 2010 2011 2012
        1. US 41.1% 49.2% 42.7% 45.4%
        2. India 19.0% 13.5% 17.1% 15.6%
        3. UK 5.7% 5.1% 4.4% 4.2%
        4. Canada 4.3% 5.5% 4.0% 3.7%
        5. China 2.0% 1.3% 2.0% 2.9%
        6. Australia 5.0% 3.4% 2.8% 2.6%
        7. Pakistan 1.1% 1.4% 2.5% 2.5%

        Notice that we were quite popular in Australia during 2009 (when we produced The Biggest Dry series from there), but then it slowed considerably and China took over as our 5th largest audience in 2012, pushing Australia to 6th. Although we see a slight bump in our China audience from 2010 to 2011 (i.e. when we produced both China Karst and Choke Point: China series), we dont see a huge bump, though we’ve just produced these big packages.

        Also, I should note that this percentage represents how many of our total visits are coming from each country. So, as our total number of visits increases, though the China audience percentage appears to stay the same, we’ve definitely increased in total hits from that country. (In other words, for example, we went from having about 250k visits in 2009 to having 440k visits in 2010. So, though it looks like the number of visits from China went down because the percentage went down from 2% to 1.3%, we actually increased the number of visits from China: 4,955 in 2009 to 5,500 in 2010. Likewise, we had 435k total visits and 8,725 from China in 2011, even though the percentage appears to be the same as 2009, because both 2009 and 2011 had 2.0% of our visits from China. Do you follow me?)

        How readers find us:

        1. Around 80% are new visitors to our site, about 20% are returning visitors.

        2. Top 5 Languages: Around 83% are US. English speakers, 4% are UK English speakers, 2.78% are Chinese speakers, 0.72% French, 0.66% Spanish.

        3. Top 5 Browsers: 31.5% come from Internet Explorer, 28.5% from Google Chrome, 23% Mozilla Firefox, 12% Safari, 2% Android phones.

        4. Computer preference: 77% Windows, 14% Mac, 2% iphones/ipads, 2% Android

        5. Around 68% of our audience comes from Searches: 65% of our audience comes from Google, 6% from Yahoo, 2% from Bing, only 0.4% from Google News and 0.1% from Google Images. (The table below shows these for the last four years, so you can see that Bing is increasing and Yahoo is decreasing, while Google is fairly stable. The numbers refer to where they each rank among all the different sites that readers come to us from.)

        Search engine 2009 2010 2011 2012
        1. google 65.0% 59.4% 58.4% 64.8%
        7. yahoo 2.2% 1.3% 1.8% 1.4%
        6. bing 0.4% 0.9% 1.9% 1.7%
        12. google news 0.1% 0.4% 0.2% 0.4%
        39. google images 0.7% 0.4% 0.0% 0.1%

        Of the “search terms” that get these users to us, the top search word is “china”, pulling in 7.44% of our searchers. (Followed distant second to “what is pollution” at 2.90% and “circle of blue”at 1.51% )

        Around 15% of our audience comes from Referrals: Google leads this (distinction: this is from Google Ad Words, I believe, not normal Google searches, as listed above). Next is Facebook, then Twitter (which is interesting, because we have double the Twitter followers as we do Facebook, however, the majority of our Facebook posts lead back to our CoB site, whereas the majority of our Tweets lead to outside news sources that we’re reading/follwoing). Pacific Institute, our “affiliate” gives us only 0.1% referrals, and next is from Wilson Center (which includes China Environment Forum). You can see below how these have changed over the years and how these rank with other traffic lenders seen above.

        Referral 2009 2010 2011 2012
        5. google/referral 0.6% 2.0% 2.6% 2.7%
        7. facebook 1.2% 1.4% 1.6% 1.5%
        9. twitter/su.pr 1.1% 1.9% 1.2% 0.7%
        31. pacific institute 0.8% 0.2% 0.2% 0.1%
        32. wilson center 0.09% 0.05% 0.07% 0.09%


        About 3.5% of our traffic come from campaigns (i.e. newsletters). (Note: This is down from 4.5% in 2011, but up from 2.5% in 2010.)

        We have close to 4,800 people on our weekly mailing list (80 subscribers per month, but 20 unsubscribers); our average “open rate” is about 21% of those, and our average “click rate” is about 6%. (Though these seem low, they are actually above the “industry average” for our news/genre bracket.) 50.5% of our subscribers are from the US, 6.5% from Australia, 5.2% from India, and 27.4% are labeled “other”. Looking at the employment of those who gave us that info, I see everything from WWF, WRI, WHO, to the World Economic Forum and the World Bank to government workers in the USGS the EPA, etc. to universities in the US, Australia, and elsewhere to lawyers to water-industry folks (think desalination companies, etc.) But there are also journalists from around the world on the list, as well as the majority of people who did not give us their place of employment.


        So, this is probably WAY MORE than you wanted, but it might give some insight for your students into the behind-the-scenes of what it means to be a 21st century newsroom that has to analyze numbers like this (in addition to finding/reporting the big stories!)

        And, of course, this is definitely something that your students could learn more about if they wanted to become a Circle of Blue intern. 😉 FYI: Emilia, I sent you an email with links to the work that our eight interns over the last year have done for us. I wont take up more space here, but I figure that you can find perhaps a more appropriate place to post those links. For now, I’ll just leave this link to our internships page that gives some details of what interns do for us. To apply, they should send A) a cover letter B) a resume C) two writing samples (in the case of an editorial intern; photography/design interns should send a portfolio of their best work). We take interns who are interested in multimedia reporting like: writing, office management, data, website design/publishing, photography, video, audio, etc. etc. Here’s the link. http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/about/internships/

        Thanks again for critiquing our 2013 preview, and please post your comments on our site so that the author, Brett, can see what you think!

    • I would be more than happy to comment on the article. Thanks for your response and I appreciate the clarification on audience since that really helps me to put the article in to perspective.

  3. This article is pretty hard to follow. Although it does present a lot of points about the concerns of water issues, these concerns do not come across as urgent because there are so many points being thrown around. It would have been helpful if the article focused in on two or three “extra” important issues, and spoke about the urgency of those so that the reader could get a better sense of the dilemmas.

    The article is organized by headings, however under each heading there are so many other points that it is just way too difficult to follow. Because of this the article lacks a compelling storyline and format. The article does do a good job representing water issues across the world, however I disregarded many of these issues because there were too many for me to focus on.

    As an audience member, the message does not affect me to its potential.

  4. To me, this article is more of a list, and when I think about lists, I realize that I typically write them more out of necessity and for myself than a desire to inform or report to others.

    Yet having said that, I once mistakenly wrote a list-type article for the Michigan Daily about a TEDx conference I attended in the Arb. In an attempt to cover as much information as possible, I devoted about 2 to 3 sentences to every speaker that gave a talk. It made for a bunch of brief, difficult-to-remember fragments of what the entire afternoon in the Arb was really about: sustainability.

    And so, as Chelsea mentioned above, I think if I were to write this article, I would have approached it the same way. I would have tried to include as much info as possible in an attempt not to leave anything out, but I don’t think that makes for a compelling read.

    So after making that mistake in my own article and recognizing that something similar is happening here, my feeling is that this article is missing a distinct anecdote or specific issue for the reader to hold onto…something they might tell a friend after finishing the article. Maybe a person or a quote about how high the stakes are… something memorable and relatable.

    Of course, we recognize that this is meant to be an overview of what’s to come for water issues/regulation in 2013, but overviews can still be memorable… in fact, they SHOULD be memorable. After all, that’s the whole point of a list.

    As it stands, all those pipelines, dams, and conventions just seemed to run together. If I were to write this article or my own TEDx article again, I would begin with one specific issue/event/project or TED talk and attempt to link it to yet another specific issue or talk. After including something specific, maybe even an anecdote about a person or an interesting quote, THEN I would include a shortened or highlighted list of some of the other water issues/regulations that will occur in 2013.

  5. “Water News: What’s Ahead in 2013” conveys just that, it enumerates the policy high lights of the upcoming year domestically and abroad. Its usefulness lies in its ability to function as a spring board for further research, be it student or interested citizen. That being said, it is not an article the general public would find interesting or comprehensive. I have seen articles like this in time magazine paired with relevant pictures and dynamic graphic layouts, this approach is more engaging to the casual news reader

  6. I would agree that the article seems a little disjointed, but I don’t think that the list aspect is necessarily something to be avoided. If the article were formated as a short opening dealing with the issues at hand followed by something explicitly formated as a list, it could be a nice resource for people who might want to follow up on specific aspects of the issue as a whole. The issue to me is the mix of formats, if you want a list just make a list.

  7. I don’t know if it is just my own opinion, because I read and think a lot about water and issues related with climate change and the environment, but I really enjoyed the article. I agree with people who said that it was more like a list of important things to know, but sometimes I’d rather read a list and then search for more specific information if I have time.
    Going a little back: 2012 was the UN year of Sustainable Energy for All, and I dare say that most people were not aware of it. As far as I know there was no general public involvement with the cause, which makes me wonder if this 2013 theme year will be any different. We will witness many conventions focusing on the issues related to the use of water in our society, and the article mentions a few of them. It will surely be an interesting topic to follow through the year.
    One last thing. I watched Chasing Ice and it was a fantastic documentary. I strongly recommend it for all who read this blog. But, in case you missed it, James Balog’s talk on TED (http://youtu.be/DjeIpjhAqsM) is also a good choice.

  8. The article does read like a litany of disjointed water issues across the globe. Of course, what the author was trying to convey is what he addressed in the first section where he mentions that water issues are increasingly coming to prominence. However, while the remainder of the article devotes a lot of attention to an exhaustive list of water issues (both positive and negative in no particular order), it does little to analyse the impact these issues might have on policy and/or public and private life. For a reader who is not already “water-conscious”, the article comes off as overwhelming, but could perhaps provide the reader with a list of things to research further. On the other hand, I get the impression that Circle of Blue’s audience is more water-literate than the general public, and thus this article functions as a list of water-related projects and developments to go out there. For those who follow water issues closely, damming in Central and East Asia, hydraulic fracturing, groundwater depletion and virtual water trade are definitely on the radar and worth noting. In addition, although the water-conscious reader would understand the connection between water and energy sources such as the Keystone pipeline, fracking and coal, I don’t think that the amount of water consumed and degradation of water quality resulting from these processes is general knowledge. In order to make the article more relevant for a wider audience, the article could have opened and closed by pointing out that water supplies are dwindling and that global climate change will make control of and cooperation over water resources more difficult. Although it’s a sort of scare tactic, these facts are based in reality and would help to convince readers of the importance of these issues in the coming year.


  1. How Are We Doing? | Circle of Blue WaterNews - February 8, 2013

    […] way to patch the gaps and the voids is to actively critique those who are now reporting the news, as the Michigan students did in this critique of our 2013 waternews predictions. One thing that the students mentioned over and over again was that they felt that the article […]

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