The idea of a news site focused on specific bodies of water is not completely new. The Chesapeake Bay Journal, a free monthly newspaper, has been covering environmental stories that affect its bay for the past twenty years, and for quite some time, it was the only media organization doing this kind of reporting. The paper expanded its reach in 2007 by adding the Bay Journal News Service, an op-ed service for papers throughout the region, and they also have a monthly radio show called Midday on the Bay which airs on WYPR. Karl Blankenship, founding editor of the Bay Journal, told CJR’s Brainard earlier this year that, combined, their efforts reach an estimated 500,000 people monthly.
Now, at long last, the Bay Journal has some company. Another news organization which focuses exclusively on regional water concerns is the Ohio River Radio Consortium, an environmental radio news service and blog launched in 2010, and written about here by Brainard. The consortium commissions stories throughout the many states that are touched by the Ohio River Valley’s watershed (they are on hiatus for the summer).
Much of the reporting on the Great Lakes Echo is also concerned with what happens to the area watersheds, which is where the water from rain and melting snow drains from the land and converges, eventually forming a single body of water. Poulson says the biggest problem with this term is that a lot of people don’t actually realize what it means. “I’m trying to invent a new word: a news-shed,” says Poulson about the watershed beat. “To a large extent this concept makes sense, but then it doesn’t because people don’t know what a watershed is.”
But in the Catskills mountains in upstate New York, people are quite familiar with the watershed concept. The watershed rules that New York City applies to regulate the land inside this largely rural and expansive community affect many aspects of life for these residents. Drawing on what they knew was important to their community, Julia Reischel and Lissa Harris started a news outlet, the Watershed Post, in 2010, to document these issues (also recently featured in the News Frontier Database).
“It’s really amazing how pervasive it is,” says Reischel about the watershed, “You just don’t realize how much regulation goes into keeping New York City’s giant, unfiltered water supply clean, fresh, and cheap.” These sets of laws are meant to protect the natural land buffer, which filters water around the reservoir, protecting it from contaminants and soil. “That’s great for drinking water quality, but not so great for development,” says Reischel.
In the rural area that the Watershed Post reports on, which spans five counties and fifty towns, The Department of Environmental Protection is the enforcer and local antagonist. The DEP is often the talk of the towns, so much so that naming the site The Watershed Post has been both a strength and a weakness. “We wanted to get a name that really struck at the heart of the issue that mattered to everyone up here,” says Reischel. “But people have such animosity towards the DEP that when they hear watershed they think we’re with the city. They don’t always understand we’re an independent entity covering it.”
For these environmental reporters, information about the quality of a water passage is another way of covering the health of the surrounding land. “There’s a clear link between what’s going on in our rivers and what were doing with the landscape more generally,” says McGlashen. By not allowing political lines to govern their coverage, these journalists are better able to connect the dots about what is happening to our most vital resource, water—which, like these news outlets, has no use for man-made boundaries.