For more than two decades, the Times-Picayune’s newsroom in New Orleans has paid particularly close attention to the ongoing issues related to the degradation of Louisiana’s coast. With the creation of the coastal reporting team, dedicated to in-depth coverage of the state’s continuous land loss, the newspaper is hoping the public will soon follow suit.
“We want to ramp up staffing and use every storytelling tool at our disposal to make sure everyone understands the full scope of the problem, the cost and human impact of proposed solutions and the consequences of doing nothing,” said editor Mark Lorando.
Over the past 80 years, Louisiana has lost roughly 1,800 square miles of land, an area larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. State officials have warned that without major restoration projects in place, the Bayou State could lose another 1,750 square miles during this century.
It’s a problem that environment reporter Mark Schleifstein says concerns more than just the residents of Louisiana. The state either directly provides or acts as a conduit for a third of the nation’s oil and gas.
“Loss of the wetland areas has the potential of dramatically reducing the effectiveness of its use as a nursery for the majority of U.S. commercial fishery species in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Schleifstein, who will lead the team alongside state news editor Drew Broach. “Those wetlands also act as protection for the thousands of miles of pipelines and equipment used by the oil and gas industry. Thus, the wetland loss issues faced by the state are actually a national economic problem, in addition to the environmental threat it poses.”
The establishment of the coastal team was due in large part to a partnership with the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), which has provided more than $640,000 for journalism projects since 2010. The team will include contributions from longtime outdoors reporter Todd Masson and photographer/videographer Ted Jackson. The newspaper intends to hire two full-time environmental journalists who will work exclusively for the new team as well.
“As I interpret things, the written word provides the testimony within our published presentations. The photographs provide the evidence,” Jackson said. “It’s usually difficult for readers to wrap their minds around the dramatic loss of our coastline until they can see it. And once they see it, they are much more inclined to study the details and begin to care, which is the first step toward action.”