Outstanding Beat Reporting, Large: SEJ 22nd Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

First Place

"Forever Chemicals" by Michael Hawthorne for Chicago Tribune

Screenshot of first-place story #1, Beat Reporting, Large
Screenshot of first-place story, Beat Reporting, Large


Story links:

  1. "More Than 8 Million Illinoisans Get Drinking Water From a Utility Where Forever Chemicals Have Been Detected, Tribune Investigation Finds" (w/ sidebar "Persistent Farmer Whose Cows Died From a Mysterious Disease Helped Unravel the Origin of Toxic Chemicals" and timeline)
  2. "Sewage Sludge Contaminated With Toxic Forever Chemicals Has Been Spread on Thousands of Acres of Chicago-Area Farmland" (w/ sidebar "Researchers Urge Doctors To Test Patients for Toxic Forever Chemicals, Which Could Cost Americans Nearly $63 Billion in Hidden Health Costs")
  3. "Chicago's Sewage District Fails To Warn Gardeners Free Sludge Contains Toxic Forever Chemicals"
  4. "Illinois Failed To Take Action Even Though It Knew 3M Had Been Polluting the Mississippi River for More Than a Decade"
  5. Link to series

Judges' comments: "Of all the excellent entries received in the large beat reporting category this year, this one is outstanding for the herculean effort undertaken by reporter Michael Hawthorne to investigate the health and environmental effects of unregulated PFAS and for the impact of his reporting. Not only did his work prompt discussion and response, including introduction of legislation to ban PFAS pollution nationwide, but Hawthorne created an online tool to allow readers to determine if there was PFAS in their water supplies. For more than a year, he reviewed thousands of court documents, government records and scientific studies.  His well-told stories reflect a deep knowledge about a complex subject and a commitment to inform readers about the failure of the government to protect them. This is a shining example of the finest kind of journalism."

Bio: Michael Hawthorne is a Pulitzer-finalist investigative reporter who focuses on environment and public health issues for the Chicago Tribune. He has written extensively about the health of the Great Lakes and Chicago River, the dangers of toxic chemicals in household products and the lingering hazards of brain-damaging lead in homes and drinking water. Michael grew up on a farm in central Illinois, raising pigs to help pay for college. He covered state government and the environment for newspapers in Florida, Illinois and Ohio before joining the Tribune in 2004.


Second Place

"Environmental Challenges and Changes in West Africa" by Ashoka Mukpo for Mongabay

Story links:

  1. "In Sierra Leone, Local Fishers and Foreign Trawlers Battle for Their Catch" (freelance reporter Emma Black contributed reporting)
  2. "Inside Sierra Leone's Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary"
  3. "In Sierra Leone's Fishing Villages, a Reality Check for Climate Aid"
  4. "At a Rubber Plantation in Liberia, History Repeats in a Fight Over Land"
  5. "Liberian Courts Rubber-Stamp Export Shipment of Illegal Logs"

Judges' comments: "Whether it's painting a picture of how life is getting harder for fishers on the coast of Sierra Leone 'where the fish have become scarcer...and rickety boats are having to go farther out to sea,' or explaining the painful and continuing fallout of colonialism at a rubber plantation in Liberia and the effects of deforestation on chimpanzees, reporter Ashoka Mukpo goes to great lengths to convey the way life is unfolding in this region of the world. His stories are diverse, gut-wrenching and informative. With Mukpo as your guide, you are on a journey to understand environmental, economic and historical complexities that are rarely well covered and with so much insight and heart."


Third Place

"Jon Mitchell Investigates: The Environmental Impact of US Military Operations in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan" by Jon Mitchell, with Abe Takashi, Chinen Kiyoharu and Gibu Katsuki, for Okinawa Times

Team roles:

Main reporting: Jon Mitchell, Lead Journalist, Okinawa Times
Support team: Abe Takashi, Journalist, Okinawa Times (additional reporting, translation and editing); Chinen Kiyoharu, Journalist, Okinawa Times (additional reporting, translation, and editing); and Gibu Katsuki, digital editor, Okinawa Times (digital design)

Story links:

  1. "US Military Hid Discovery of Radioactive and PFAS Contamination at Scene of '17 Heli Crash"
  2. "The Junk Heap of the Pacific — 75 years of US military Contamination on Okinawa"
  3. "At Least 21 US Veterans Now Receiving Compensation for Agent Orange Exposure on Okinawa — Despite Pentagon Claims Defoliants Never Stored on Island"
  4. "Military Emails: 'High Probability' Kadena Air Base Is Source of PFAS Contamination, Marines Order Cover-Up of Drinking Water Data"
  5. "Contamination at Camp Kinser: 2019 Report Detailed High Health Risks for Children, Base Workers — But Military Failed To Inform"

Judges' comments: "Jon Mitchell's articles on the United States military's contamination of the island of Okinawa document a sad history and continuing issues. The military had released little to none of the information on the damages to the island's environment or its people. His reporting brought investigations by local and national authorities.

"The U.S. has 31 military bases on the island. Jon spent months getting through the military's secrecy. He uncovered, among many problems, the military's contamination of drinking water, PFAS and radioactive contamination at a helicopter crash on a civilian farm, and failure to tell school officials and parents about soils contaminated by high levels of carcinogenic chemicals.

"Using charts, photos, an animated timeline in addition to his writing, Jon shows again how journalism best helps the public it serves."


First Honorable Mention

"Catrin Einhorn's Beat Reporting" by Catrin Einhorn for The New York Times

Story links:

  1. "Tree Planting Is Booming. Here’s How That Could Help, Or Harm, the Planet."
  2. "Meet the Peecyclers. Their Idea to Help Farmers Is No. 1."
  3. "Consider the Burying Beetle. (Or Else.)"
  4. "Ecuador Tried To Curb Drilling and Protect the Amazon. The Opposite Happened." with Manuela Andreoni
  5. "Are Butterflies Wildlife? Depends Where You Live."

Judges' comments: "A reporter writing on the existential crises of biodiversity loss is doubly challenged. First, to be heard above the roar of reporting on more visible climate impacts, and second to illuminate a process that is quite literally connected to everything. Catrin Einhorn's reporting reminds the reader about the vital threat to all life posed by biodiversity loss, while also following individual stories that are exemplary in their creative approaches to slowing or halting its destruction.

"Einhorn's stories about the impacts on insects, forests and food systems also help readers understand the complex ways policy and economic disparities have been drivers of biodiversity loss as much as climate change. She does so with wit and an assured voice that keeps the story moving without leaving out detail."


Second Honorable Mention

"Drier and Drier: Covering California's Third Year of Drought" by Hayley Smith for Los Angeles Times

Story links:

  1. "Did California Learn Anything From the Last Drought? 'Gambling' With Water Continues."
  2. "Extreme Heat, Drought Will Permanently Scar California and Its Social Fabric"
  3. "Kim Kardashian, Kevin Hart and Sylvester Stallone Accused of Drought Restriction Violations," featuring data graphics from LA Times graphics editor Sean Greene
  4. "Dirty Water, Drying Wells: Central Californians Shoulder Drought's Inequities," featuring photography by LA Times photographer Brian Van Der Brug
  5. "They Used To Call California Ocean Desalination a Disaster. But Water Crisis Brings New Look."

Judges' comments: "Hayley Smith wrote on California's drought, but what makes her stories exceptional is that they capture the drought's impact on the entire West.

"With in-depth reporting she showed damage to fish, trees, people, and drought's unequal effects on the rich and poor. Shining a light on celebrities' excess water use while regular citizens were under strict conservation measures changed the celeb's actions. Likewise, her article showing that the low-income were most affected got the State Water Board to move.

"Hayley brought her readers along to compare today's drought with past ones to show how different this one is and how that may change the culture. She let her readers look at monumental problems and did it with an even hand."


Third Honorable Mention

"Crypto's Climate Reckoning" by Justine Calma for The Verge

Story links:

  1. "Texas' Fragile Grid Isn't Ready  for Crypto Mining's Explosive Growth"
  2. "Crypto Can't Fix Carbon Offsets — But Crypto Fans Are Trying Anyway"
  3. "How The Merge Will Slash Ethereum's Climate Pollution"
  4. "2022 Was the Year of Crypto's Climate Reckoning"
  5. "Biden Administration Acknowledges It Can Force Bitcoin Mines To Disclose Pollution"

Judges' comments: "Despite a plethora of explainers, cryptocurrency is not widely understood, and even among converts crypto's role as an environmental actor is even less intelligible. Despite the use of resource extraction term such as crypto 'mining,' the processes by which cryptocurrency is brought into the market remain highly abstract.

"Into this miasma comes Justine Calma, writing in The Verge, an online publication at the crossroads of technology and culture. In a series of articles about cryptocurrency's environmental effects, Calma ably explains crypto mining's real-world energy use and carbon emissions and federal efforts to track and regulate those emissions, amid high-profile industry instability and the flame out of currency exchange FTX."


The Society of Environmental Journalists' annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment honor the best environmental journalism in 10 categories, bringing recognition to the stories that are among the most important on the planet. Prizes are $500 for first-place winners and $250 for second-place winners in all categories. Plus, the Nina Mason Pulliam Award for the "best of the best" environmental reporting will award $10,000 to one entry selected from the first-place winners of SEJ's Awards for Reporting on the Environment. The Pulliam Award also includes travel, registration and hotel expenses (up to $2,500) for the winner, or representatives of the winning team, to attend SEJ's annual conference.

The SEJ contest is the world's largest and most comprehensive environmental journalism competition. This year, a record-breaking 589 entries in 10 categories were judged by independent volunteer panels of journalists and professors.

On November 16, 2023, at SEJ's 2024 Journalists' Guide to Energy & Environment event in Washington, D.C., we'll announce live the winner of the Nina Mason Pulliam Award and its $10,000 cash prize.

SEJ's 2023 Esteemed Judges and Screeners
SEJ's 2023 Awards Committee

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