InsideClimate News Wins 2019 John B. Oakes Award for Outstanding Environmental Reporting | Columbia Journalism School
An illustration from "Harvesting Peril"

InsideClimate News Wins 2019 John B. Oakes Award for Outstanding Environmental Reporting

InsideClimate News has won the 2019 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for its eye-opening series “Harvesting Peril: Extreme Weather and Climate Change on the American Farm.” Reporters Georgina GustinNeela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr. and Paul Horn explored agriculture’s role in the growing climate crisis, and the forces preventing it from playing a greater part in combating climate change. The team investigated the influence of the nation’s largest farm lobby, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which helps shape climate opinion among American farmers. InsideClimate News revealed how the AFBF puts at risk the very farmers it represents by working to defeat treaties and regulations that could slow global warming, and by denying the science in tandem with fossil fuel interests.

Two Finalists for the 2019 Oakes Award are: ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine for “Fuel to the Fire,” and The Desert Sun for “Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border.”

  • “Fuel to the Fire” is a rare investigation that exposed how Indonesian palm companies were operating illegally working with corrupt regulators to cover up the disastrous environmental effects from slashing and burning palm trees. By gaining access to remote regions, reporter Abrahm Lustgarten (CJS ‘03) detailed how Indonesian palm companies had caused the release of more carbon in one year than the annual emissions of the continent of Europe.
  • “Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border” chronicled how unchecked pollution has led to an environmental crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. Reporters Ian James and Zoë Meyers discovered how the severely polluted New River and air pollution in Mexicali has affected people on both sides of the border. The Desert Sun’s revelations led to the hiring of a new official to oversee pollution-fighting efforts on the border, announced plans to deploy 50 air-quality monitors in Mexicali, and new efforts by California lawmakers to clean up the New River.

The 2019 Oakes Award winners and finalists will be honored at Columbia Journalism School on Mon., Sept. 9. InsideClimate News will receive a $5,000 honorarium.

Given annually for news reporting that makes an exceptional contribution to the public’s understanding of environmental issues, the Oakes Award was founded in 1993 by family, friends and colleagues of John B. Oakes (1913-2001). Oakes was an environmental journalism pioneer and an editorial writer for The New York Times.

WINNER - InsideClimate News

Harvesting Peril: Extreme weather and climate change on the American farm

Journalists: Georgina Gustin, Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr. and Paul Horn

Judges’ Citation: Agriculture accounts for about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and farmers are on the front line of the global climate crisis as they face mounting damages from floods, droughts and pestilence. This comprehensive examination by InsideClimate News showed how the American farm lobby has refused to embrace the findings of science and instead mounted a decades-long campaign of opposition to climate action. The series revealed how, in league with the fossil fuels industry and their denialist allies, big agriculture has lobbied against international agreements or domestic regulations on emissions. The farm lobby has shrugged off climate-friendly solutions, shirking a major role for farmers, whose crops could profitably absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store them safely in healthy soils. Instead, the industry has fostered a system of subsidized insurance and disaster bail-outs, of megafarms and monocultures — and has left independent family farmers in precarious straits. InsideClimate News’ smart reporting from the field, its engaging explanatory graphics, and its trenchant insights illuminated a problem that is getting increasing attention at a time of rising risks and persistent inaction.



Photo: Ashley Gilbertson

FINALIST - ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine
Fuel to the Fire
Journalist: Abrahm Lustgarten

Judges’ Citation: In these tumultuous times, as we are constantly bombarded with news, very few stories stick. This article, by ProPublica's Abrahm Lustgarten, is one of the few from 2018 that did. Judges agreed this story stayed with them for days and weeks after reading it. The vivid writing and artful weaving of history, politics, relevance and despair were masterful. Lustgarten chronicled how a disastrous decision by the federal government to elevate biofuels in our nation has inadvertently led to the full-swell destruction of another. He avoided the easy tropes of environment journalism - such as hitting the reader immediately with gruesome scenes of orangutan deaths or the clear cutting of rain forests - and instead led us there slowly and deliberately, so that when we arrived, its conclusion was like a sucker punch. There was nowhere to hide. The judges commend Lustgarten on a beautifully told and riveting article that left an indelible mark on us all.

Photo: Zoë Meyers

FINALIST - The Desert Sun
Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border
Journalists: Ian James, Zoë Meyers

Judges’ Citation: Despite their promises, governments on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border have failed to protect residents by curtailing the polluters who dump into the New River. Journalists Ian James and Zoë Meyers waded into the story of the pollution lurking in the river, which crosses both countries, and the nearby industries that spew toxic air with few consequences. It was a story in plain sight -- both governments acknowledged the pollution -- but the reporters skillfully unearthed evidence showing how officials had ignored complaints and shirked their responsibility to act. Language options and multiple entry points ensure the series is accessible to all readers, whether they speak Spanish, have just a few minutes to spare, or are willing to take a deep dive into the stories in these border towns. The judges commend The Desert Sun for this evocative, immersive and deeply reported series and the changes it has spurred for the people living along the California-Mexico border.





About Columbia Journalism School
For more than a century, the school has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened its doors in 1912 and offers Masters of Science, Masters of Arts, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, and Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, the Mike Berger Award and the WERT Prize for Women Business Journalists.



Caroline Wernecke
Assistant Director, Professional Prizes
[email protected]

Chantal De Soto
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