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

First Place

"The Coming California Megastorm" by Raymond Zhong (journalist), Mira Rojanasakul (graphics) and Erin Schaff (photography) for The New York Times

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


Judges' comments: "In 'The Coming California Megastorm,' the New York Times' Raymond Zhong, Mira Rojanasakul and Erin Schaff explained an underappreciated catastrophic threat to California that climate change is supercharging: atmospheric rivers. In clear and fluent prose accompanied by a brilliant multimedia presentation and evocative photography, this story captivated and educated readers in and outside California and spurred state officials to invest in research on flood risks — just months before a series of atmospheric rivers inundated California with rainfall, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. 'The Coming California Megastorm' is, quite simply, extraordinary explanatory journalism of remarkable clarity and lasting import."

Bio: Raymond Zhong is a reporter covering climate and the environment for The New York Times. He was part of the team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in public service for coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. He joined The Times in 2017 as a technology reporter and was based in Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan. Before that, he worked in New Delhi for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered India's fast-moving economy and wrote about life at a busy Indian train station, avalanches and earthquakes in Nepal, the conflict in Kashmir and the surprising number of people in the Maldives who don't know how to swim.


Second Place

"Nature in Crisis" by Gloria Dickie, Daisy Chung, Julia Janicki, Simon Scarr, Katy Daigle and Reuters colleagues for Reuters

Team roles:

  • Gloria Dickie, Journalist, Reuters
  • Daisy Chung, Data Journalist, Reuters
  • Julia Janicki, Data Journalist, AFP
  • Simon Scarr, Deputy Global Editor – Graphics, Reuters
  • Katy Daigle, Global Climate & Environment Editor, Reuters

Story links:

  1. "The Future of Biodiversity" (landing page)
  2. "The Collapse of Insects: The Most Diverse Group of Organisms on the Planet Are in Trouble, With Recent Research Suggesting Insect Populations Are Declining at an Unprecedented Rate"
  3. "Why Plants Matter: Disappearing Plants Jeopardize a Green Future
  4. "The Cutting Edge: How New Drone Technology Is Helping Scientists in the Uphill Battle Against Plant Extinction"
  5. "On the Brink: Extinction Crisis Puts 1 Million Species on the Verge of Disappearing"

Judges' comments: "Data analysis, a wealth of detailed illustrations and graphical storytelling are combined in the four-part 'Nature in Crisis' series from Reuters. The series balances individual details and stories with big picture trends and is impressive in scope, detail, illustration, organization and presentation. More than 150 individual insects were illustrated for 'The Collapse of Insects,' with the graphics, text and web animation coming together to create an immediate understanding of what the insect world is facing. The loss of flora worldwide is explored in 'Why Plants Matter.' The usefulness of drone technology to assess — and collect — the flora of Hawaii is covered in 'The Cutting Edge,' where text and numerous detailed illustrations are combined to tell the story of how plants in Hawaii are being rediscovered and protected for the future. The extinction crises facing land animals is explored in 'On the Brink,' where illustrations and graphical representations tell a rich visual story to accompany the text."


Third Place

"Colorado River in Crisis" by Ian James, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Sean Greene, Albert Brave Tiger Lee, Carolyn Cole, Luis Sinco, Gina Ferazzi and Brian van der Brug for Los Angeles Times

Team roles:

  • Lead Reporter: Ian James, Water Reporter, Los Angeles Times
  • Reporter: Molly Hennessy-Fiske, former National Reporter, Los Angeles Times
  • Data Reporting and Graphics: Sean Greene, Assistant Editor, Data and Graphics, Los Angeles Times
  • Video Producer: Albert Brave Tiger Lee, Video Journalist, Los Angeles Times
  • Photography: Carolyn Cole, Staff Photographer, Los Angeles Times
  • Photography: Luis Sinco, Staff Photographer, Los Angeles Times
  • Photography: Gina Ferazzi, Staff Photographer, Los Angeles Times
  • Photography: Brian van der Brug, Staff Photographer, Los Angeles Times

Story links:

  1. "In Arizona, Colorado River Crisis Stokes Worry Over Growth and Groundwater Depletion"
  2. "The Colorado River Is Overused and Shrinking. Inside the Crisis Transforming the Southwest."
  3. "A River Guide's View of Lake Powell's Decline and the Depths of the Colorado River Crisis"
  4. "In California's Imperial Valley, Farmers Brace for a Future With Less Colorado River Water"
  5. "Why Desert Golf Courses and Artificial Lakes Remain Untouched by the Colorado River Crisis"

Judges' comments: "The fate of the shrinking Colorado River was one of the biggest environmental stories in the United States in 2022. The river's precarious present and future is not a new story. But the Los Angeles Times seized the moment to produce meaningful and memorable journalism at the right time. Its reporters, data journalists and photographers delivered an eight-part series that was broad in scope and meticulous in detail, connecting policy, science and people, from the headwaters to the delta."


First Honorable Mention

"Barbados Resists Climate Colonialism in an Effort To Survive the Costs of Global Warming" by Abrahm Lustgarten for ProPublica

Judges' comments: "ProPublica does not disappoint in this deep dive into the financial balancing act that small countries — such as Barbados — must do as they attempt to negotiate aging infrastructure, climate change and dwindling resources. The piece highlights the game-changing efforts of the island nation's prime minister, Mia Mottley, to successfully negotiate an economic reform framework with the International Monetary Fund that will have long-lasting repercussions for other struggling nations."


Second Honorable Mention

"How To Power the World" by Malte Rohwer-Kahlmann, Kiyo Dörrer, Aditi Rajagopal and Tim Schauenberg for Deutsche Welle

Team roles:

Idea, research, interviews, storyboard, recording: Malte Rohwer-Kahlmann, DW Reporter, Story on Hydrogen & Story on Gas
Idea, research, interviews, storyboard, voicing: Kiyo Dörrer, DW Reporter, Story on coal mining in Germany
Idea, research, interviews, storyboard, voicing: Aditi Rajagopal, DW Reporter, Story on Wave Energy
Idea, research, interviews, storyboard, voicing: Tim Schauenberg, DW Reporter, Story on Airborne Energy

Story links:

  1. "The Truth About Hydrogen"
  2. "Why Wave Power Isn't Everywhere (Yet)"
  3. "Why We Need To Ditch Natural Gas (ASAP)"
  4. "Why Germany Is Destroying Villages for Coal"
  5. "Why Kites Could Be the Next Big Thing for Wind Power"

Judges' comments: "In a fast-moving video series, Deutsche Welle's Planet A offered viewers engaging, witty and concise explanations of the pros and cons of five existing or potential energy sources: high-level winds, coal, natural gas, waves and hydrogen. The series accomplished the most difficult task (and reached the highest goal) of serious explanatory journalism: making what is important interesting to a large audience."


Third Honorable Mention

"Perilous Course" by Eduardo Cuevas, Joyce Chu, Kelly Powers, Dinah Pulver, Matthew Prensky, Chad Gillis, Andrew West, Hannah Morse, Alex Kuffner, Kim Strong, Gareth McGrath, Megan Fernandes, Kimberly Miller, Ricardo Kaulessar, Marisa Mecke, Hadley Barndollar, Danielle Dreilinger, Jeff Schwaner and William Ramsey for Providence Journal

Team roles:

The main USA TODAY Network reporters on Perilous Course include:

  • Eduardo Cuevas, New York State Team racial justice reporter
  • Joyce Chu, Petersburg Progress-Index reporter
  • Kelly Powers, How We Live Team reporter
  • Dinah Pulver, USA TODAY national reporter for climate
  • Matthew Prensky, regional investigative reporter, North Carolina region
  • Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press reporter
  • Andrew West, Fort Myers News-Press visual journalist
  • Hannah Morse, consumer reporter, Palm Beach Post
  • Alex Kuffner, environmental reporter, The Providence Journal
  • Kim Strong, Pennsylvania state editor
  • Gareth McGrath, climate change reporter
  • Megan Fernandes, former Sea Coast reporter in New England
  • Kimberly Miller, news reporter, Palm Beach Post
  • Ricardo Kaulessar, reporter, Bergen Record
  • Marisa Mecke, climate reporter
  • Hadley Barndollar, former Gannett employee with New England
  • Danielle Dreilinger, feature reporter, The American South
  • Jeff Schwaner, Virginia editor, is the storytelling coach
  • William Ramsey, enterprise editor for USA TODAY Network-Northeast, is the project's editor

Judges' comments: "The collaboration between Gannett's East Coast newsrooms represents the best of local journalism. The ambitious Perilous Course project combined shoe leather reporting on climate impacts with masterful writing. A man squeezes through a window grate to escape a flooded basement apartment; a child uses a Swiffer mop to paddle across floodwaters. Amid the outpouring of personal stories and on-the-ground data collection, the series does not forget the influence of history, referencing policies like redlining that contribute to today's misery and inequality."


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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