The best is yet to come
Today marks the ten year anniversary of EnviroReporter.com. We debuted with Real Hot Property as our lead investigation in conjunction with a Los Angeles CityBeat cover story May 18, 2006. Producing the story for CityBeat and developing a longer annotated version with supporting documents and photographs for the new website took place in a whirlwind.
“I know it’s a hot story, and we’ll see what we can do with it,” the CityBeat news editor said in a May 10, 2006 email. “Is it okay to just send it over? It would be instant gratification, as we’d use it next week.”
EnviroReporter.com’s editor and website designer Denise Anne Duffield and I worked 20-hour days for a week straight to get everything ready in time. Sure enough, the story caused a ruckus and was soon covered by both television and other print outlets. A nuclear dump in the OJ-tainted rich Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood was media candy too gooey to resist.
The story helped stop a $4 billion scheme to privatize the west Los Angeles VA by showing that a radioactive and chemically contaminated biomedical dump was sitting under prime VA land that was the centerpiece of the plan. New and alternative media combined for the knockout punch.
EnviroReporter.com’s breadth of provable evidence about the extent and sources of the nuclear dump presented in clear and compelling fashion sealed the deal. “There were other issues that we ran into that were much more complicated,” said special assistant to the VA secretary Jay Halpern to a West LA VA crowd in September 2007, explaining why the George W. Bush administration’s privatization gambit had failed. “Certainly the issue around the radiation of Barrington Park.”
The gratification from this accomplishment included numerous journalism awards for the paper and our new website. As it turned out, we could not have picked a better time for this transition from alternative to new media. With the collapse of traditional outlets for cutting edge reporting, there was little choice but to go wide and produce some of the best environmental journalism on the Internet.
Stories that I had already been covering now could be explored much more in depth and with the ability to be backed up on the spot with links to the evidence. Issues demanding a deeper scientific explanation could be fleshed out so that there could be a broader understanding from a wider audience of just exactly what the stakes were and are.
Duffield not only conceived of the website, she has designed and adapted its material through three major design changes. She also has created some of the most compelling art for the website for this decade and has provided in-the-field bravery and expertise. Her probing, shaping, creating and, well, cutting, has resulted in some pretty potent stuff.
There was no better subject to apply new journalism’s multimedia punch than the astronomically polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory, aka SSFL or Rocketdyne, which this reporter has covered since 1998. The former nuclear and rocket-engine testing lab sits at the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, subject of a $1.1 billion makeover and on the receiving end of most of the goo gushing off the site in rainstorms.
EnviroReporter.com has exposed the gross pollution of Rocketdyne and the perhaps just as gross attempts by the government and polluters to evade cleanup of the place. A look through our work on SSFL and its environs shows that there is a never-ending supply of stories showing just how contaminated it is.
Our multi-part exposés Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover in 2012 and China Syndrome Town in 2014 laid bare Boeing’s plans to paint the polluted lab as nearly pristine open space already clean enough to pass as a public park. This ongoing sham was the brainchild of former Los Angeles Times environmental reporter Gary Polakovic as exposed in 2012’s Greenwashing Rocketdyne.
EnviroReporter.com’s reporting on SSFL has spanned the gamut from class action lawsuits against Boeing, exclusive reporting on the leakiest meltdown in American history at the SSFL’s Sodium Reactor Experiment, astronomical radiation readings from a $41.5 million 2012 report and some of the saddest tales of people harmed by what they say they’ve been exposed to because of Rocketdyne. Many of these folks have become dear friends of ours.
No other news organization has covered SSFL with the kind of dogged devotion to detail, sound science and hot story like EnviroReporter.com. We’ve generally welcomed other media’s re-reporting of our finds – if they get it right, and if they are able to apply their considerable resources to actually advance the story. There is so much goo to go around especially with a story like this that has so much dirt.
One of the few good things that the mess at SSFL has resulted in is the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve, aka Ahmanson Ranch. This reporter’s probing caused the would-be developers of this 3,050-acre gem adjacent SSFL to throw in the towel when the toxic rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate was found in the groundwater that was to be used for irrigation.
A $2 billion housing bonanza that would have felled thousands of oaks and killed countless critters was itself destroyed by the goo next door leaking onto and under the property. That, however, was not the goal of the reporting. Indeed, EnviroReporter.com does not cover issues seeking to save land or anything else. We are after the truth.
Should the truth crush corruption and equip people with the facts that can protect themselves, their property and their community, so much the better. We are under no illusions that even the most illustrious of our reporting will roll back the relentless march of avarice and greed that is so often the cause of major environmental problems. But we also know that without our work, there would be no place to go for some of the information we have produced. That information has resulted in no less than $6 billion in positive change nevertheless.
During the startup of EnviroReporter.com, I was serving as chair of judging for the Los Angeles Press Club, a position I held for five years after having judged other press clubs’ work for half a decade before that. I was fortunate to have KNBC’s former on-air editorial television titan Jim Foy as my mentor teaching me how to judge. This gentleman rose at 4 am each morning to read several newspapers top to bottom before he even began his day.
Learning the judging ropes from Jim is an experience I’ll always treasure. Sublimating one’s tastes to more objectively weigh the work of journalists requires evaluating the market medium as well as the effectiveness of the reporting (or photographs, layout and all aspects of online, print, radio and television media). ‘Does it work and kick butt?’ became a couple of my main questions during the decade-plus I spent judging.
During my tenure as judging chair at the LA Press Club, I tried to pass on Jim’s excellent standards of judging. Over the years, some of the most sparkling reportage was awarded the highest accolades nationwide and in Southern California.
Contrary to some standards of journalism judging, I found that the excellence of media oft times had no effect on the issue it was reporting or documenting. Some of the very best investigative journalism, such as the kind we practice here, may not result in anything at all. Corruption, entrenched cronyism and the bottomless pit of citizen apathy can all conspire to render the finest of exposés mute.
Judging journalism has greatly influenced the development and aims of EnviroReporter.com. Through the judging, I learned to understand what the website needed, which was the same thing that worked for the best winning journalism that I appraised. Would the work we’re doing not just pass muster with me the judge but did it also go even further in the pursuit of the truth? Was our work getting better?
Thanks to Denise Anne’s superb editing, art and website design and no end to amazing environmental stories, I submit that the answer is yes for this first decade of EnviroReporter.com. Covering big issues like Aerojet Chino Hills and Runkle Canyon bear that out but so do the panoply of other enviro gems we unearthed, media-wise.
In 2013’s Black Swan SONGS, we exposed the vulnerability of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to terrorist attack and natural catastrophe. No substantive measures to protect the installation have taken place since even though we laid out the bare minimum needed to divert a disaster especially with the rise of new formidable terrorist groups like ISIS.
We’ve also exposed the humanity-ending threat to our power grid, the menace of fracking to the nation’s water supply and residential property values, trichloroethylene plaguing Southern California’s groundwater and perchlorate in fireworks shot off at rock shows and Disneyland.
Halfway into our existence, the triple meltdowns at Fukushima exploded March 11, 2011. Tens of thousands turned to EnviroReporter.com. We created an online 24/7 Radiation Station Santa Monica California along with sister stations, like Dale Ramicone’s Radiation Station Glendale California, to monitor fallout crossing the Pacific. We’ve undertaken thousands of radiation tests across the United States in all media including air, food, drink, precipitation and ocean water.
EnviroReporter.com created the most extensive radiation food testing resource available anywhere online in partnership with Australia’s Peter Daley called the Radiation Food Lab. We’ve also made it easier for folks to forage for radiation free food with Eat Me!
Our constant presence monitoring these ongoing meltdowns has seen us finding extremely radioactive rain in Death Valley and other places nationwide. Our 2016 Gone Fishing – Fukushima at Five Years and 2014’s Fukushima – The Perfect Crime? are milestone works covering the worst industrial accident in history that is irradiating the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
Reporting effectively on the kinds of issues that EnviroReporter.com covers requires Denise Anne and I to have much more than moxie, drive and a mastery of the science we’re writing about. It is a challenge reporting on the front lines of the Earthnocide our species is committing upon this little planet. We have had to have a good sense of humor.
Having fun is a snap with Denise Anne whether it’s interviewing Frackie or Perchlorate, two of her Toxies alter egos, or heading out to the desert with Darkness or Dawn Wilde. She is one of the funniest and most provocative artists I’ve ever known.
None of our reporting, serious or light-hearted, would happen were it not for our generous supporters and contributors whom we thank heartily.
Most of all we thank you, the reader and viewer, for taking us into your lives and, in many cases, acting upon the information you’ve read on EnviroReporter.com first. In our second decade we will further perfect our combination of grit, good science, fantastic stories and deep investigative exposés that put polluters on edge and politicians in the hot seat.
Denise Anne and I thank you for being part of the first decade of EnviroReporter.com where our motto still stands: Hot News. Real Hot News.