Response to Flint: Ideas for collaborative journalism projects

What if environmental journalists around the country got together to respond to the Flint water crisis with a collective reporting project? What if environmental journalists collaborated with the people of Flint to help them gather an audience for their stories of being poisoned by lead in their drinking water?

How could we work together on such projects? Here are some initial ideas.

We could..

1. Commit to telling the stories of a group of Flint babies who drank the lead-laced water. The plan could be to follow these babies and tell their stories for the rest of their lives. We would get permission from their parents to follow these babies and profile them at specific intervals. As the babies grow, of course we would have to get permission from them as well. This would be a project that asks journalists to behave like epidemiologists. In fact, it would be ideal for journalists working on this project to team with epidemiologists who will be tracking the health of these Flint babies over decades.
2. Give people in Flint, particularly young people, support and tools to tell their own stories about the water crisis. They could benefit from journalism coaching. They could benefit from editing. They could benefit from advice about the most effective ways shape their stories to connect with a large audience.
3. Test tap water from similar cities around the country. Systematically, we could look at what public officials at federal, state and local levels around the country are saying about lead in drinking water and how they are testing. Environmental journalists around the country could be funded to do testing and related stories. No more Flints.
4. The Society of Environmental Journalists could commit to revisiting the Flint story and reevaluating its impact periodically at SEJ conferences in the future. Perhaps we could promote photos from Flint every few years on the SEJ web page or social media feeds. We could aggregate all the stories about lead in drinking water around the world that we can find. We curate this information as a public resource aimed not only at journalists but also people who are concerned about their drinking water.
5. Create an interactive map locating every lead poisoned kid in the country. We would want to be careful about not making the location so specific as to identify the kid’s home. Maybe we could identify the block. When the Detroit Free Press did a massive lead poisoning project about a dozen years ago, the map was the most powerful element. It was just stunning to see the whole city of Detroit covered with dots representing lives diminished by lead. The other reporting was good, but it was the map that was held aloft at state legislature hearings, prompting change.
6. Focus reporting attention on companies that still use lead in home-based products.
7. Report about road salt and its role in increasing surface water acidity throughout the country. Perhaps we could test for surface water acidity, if we find holes in existing data. We hear so much about ocean acidity, but what about reservoir acidity or river acidity? Reporting on pros and cons of salt alternatives.
8. Report collectively about blood lead testing for infants and toddlers — how comprehensive is it across the country now? Is it required everywhere for kids who are some form of public health insurance? If this testing is required, is that requirement enforced in communities around the country? What happens if it isn’t? What happens if high lead levels are found? How do the answers to these questions vary in different communities?
9. Measure the impact of these efforts, perhaps through surveys or interviews with people in the communities where we do this journalism.

What do you think?

 

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About emiliaaskari

Journalist, teacher, news game designer. Promoting digital literacy and content creation in the public interest.

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