How we got the story: meeting the climate community

  • Jenny WhiddenDaily Herald reporter through Report For America program

    Jenny WhiddenDaily Herald reporter through Report For America program

 
BY JENNY WHIDDEN
jwhidden@dailyherald.com
Updated 7/10/2022 10:04 AM

In taking on a full-time climate change reporter this summer, the Daily Herald launched its effort to take a global subject and bring it home to the suburbs.

We view global warming as one of the most important and pressing topics of our time, and we're looking to scale the issue down to help readers understand how our water, weather and power sources are affected at the local level -- and how governments are responding.

 

So far, we've taken a look at where our plastic recycling goes, what residents think about climate change and how the solar industry is trying to grow its workforce to prepare for a new generation of power.

How did we get these stories? It all starts with sources.

Stepping into my role at the Herald, I came with myriad experiences, but climate reporting was not one of them. Faced with an unfamiliar beat, I set out to meet the climate community, because if there's one thing I know about journalism, it's that stories are human.

There are environmental advocates, scientists, lawmakers, community members and more. My first week at the Herald was spent sending as many emails and making as many calls as I could, asking people to share their thoughts, experiences and questions with me.

With those conversations under my belt and a growing spreadsheet of sources at my fingertips, I was able to hit the ground running.

Nearly every story idea stems from a person in the community: The plastic recycling story came out of an informal conversation I had with an environmental issues volunteer. The article examining how Chicago area residents view climate change was kickstarted by a source who sent me the data from Yale University. The story on solar industry workers was derived from an email about clean energy infrastructure training in Elk Grove Village.

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Once I have an idea, I enter the research phase, gathering background, facts and data from independent sources.

Next, I talk to more people -- government authorities, academics, advocates and more -- to help me form a complete picture and answer as many questions as possible in the time and newspaper space I'm allotted.

With a month behind me, I'm far from finished meeting the climate community in the Chicago area. There are endless numbers of people to meet and conversations to have. I'm going to learn a lot along the way, and I'm excited to bring the readers of the Daily Herald with me.

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America. To contribute to the costs of the project, see https://www.reportforamerica.org/newsrooms/daily-herald-4/

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