The Indiana Environmental Reporter, an independent environmental reporting organization supported by The Media School, will cease all operations June 30 following loss in funding for the organization. Originally funded by grant money and later by The Media School, the funds will be reallocated to support teaching, research and service needs, according to Audrie Osterman, director of communications and marketing for The Media School.
In 2018, The Media School partnered with the Environmental Resilience Institute to launch the Indiana Environmental Reporter as part of IU’s Grand Challenge initiative, a $300 million research initiative launched by former IU President Michael McRobbie. The Grand Challenge provided funding for research and initiatives in three challenges: the Precision Health Initiative, Responding to the Addictions Crisis and Prepared for Environmental Change. The Indiana Environmental Reporter received funding as part of this third category.
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Osterman said in an email that the Indiana Environmental Reporter was funded by a three-year grant through the Grand Challenge. When the grant funding ended in 2021, Osterman said The Media School provided funding for the Indiana Environmental Reporter to continue operations through June 2023. Osterman said The Media School informed the news organization’s staff of the end date for funding approximately one year ago. She said The Media School is proud of the impact the Indiana Environmental Reporter has had during their five years of operation, including covering work in all of Indiana’s 92 counties.
The Indiana Environmental Reporter employs two full-time reporters, Beth Edwards and Enrique Saenz, as well as one part-time employee and numerous student workers. Since learning the Indiana Environmental Reporter would not be receiving additional funding last year, Edwards said the organization tried to find other funding sources, but the search was ultimately unsuccessful.
“I think it was a surprise that we didn’t find additional funding, but I knew that this could happen,” Edwards said. “But I kept hoping that there would be this last-minute miracle.”
During her five years reporting for the Indiana Environmental Reporter, Edwards focused on the environmental impacts of coal ash, which are byproducts produced from burning coal in coal-fired power plants. Edwards wrote and produced the documentary “In the Water”, which looked at impacts that unregulated coal ash disposal had on groundwater sources across the state. The documentary was selected to premiere in the Indy Film Fest and Luleå International Film Festival in 2020.
“I think what was unique and special about us is that we could take our time and do longer pieces,” Edwards said. “I think more investigative pieces and longer form stories are going to be missing or not as many to be had.”
Saenz, who worked as a reporter in Texas before coming to the Indiana Environmental Reporter, said working as an environmental reporter helped him realize covering environmental issues involved all facets of journalism from crime to legislative issues to the economy.
“It seems like for a lot of people it’s something that doesn’t touch your life unless you go out into the woods or something,” Saenz said. “But from my experience, the environment affects everything. It’s everywhere you live, everything you do."
Saenz said he enjoyed reporting on wetlands, or areas of land covered with water or saturated water. According to the National Parks Service, wetlands provide ecological services such as water quality control, flood and erosion control and wildlife habitats. Saenz said he would report on stories showing how environmental issues affect everyday people. This past May, Saenz received six different first place awards for his environmental reporting from the Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
However, Saenz sees the loss of the Indiana Environmental Reporter as a loss for student opportunities in The Media School. He said he hoped the Indiana Environmental Reporter would one day become an established news outlet where students could get their stories published and operate like other organizations in The Media School. Saenz said numerous students had expressed interest in being involved with the organization before it lost funding.
The Indiana Environmental Reporter website, where people can access stories and podcasts from the organization, will be online for another year after operations cease.
Saenz also hopes that reporting from the Indiana Environmental Reporter will encourage people to continue investigating environmental issues.
“Who benefits from that? Why are they doing this? What effect is this going to have? Just ask yourself, ‘Why?’” Saenz said. “Anyone can ask these questions from their lawmakers and hopefully get an answer. I hope that we showed people it’s okay to ask questions about these environmental issues and I hope it’s stirred something in them so they start asking questions too.”