Meditations on our Future
by: Robert McClure, Investigate West Posted on: November 13, 2012
Photo: Simon Davis-Cohen
By Robert McClure, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Investigate West
Editor’s Note: This is a questionnaire with Robert McClure, one of the Northwest’s most experienced and active investigative journalists.
As we head into the future, what industries, decisions or trends in the West do you believe will need the most public oversight?
Energy and climate change are going to pose some new and unusual challenges for our democracy. The current controversy of the mile-long trains that are set to move Powder River Basin coal to the West Coast for export to Asia are only the most obvious areas. As we seek to adopt a lighter carbon footprint we are going to face all kinds of tradeoffs: wind power kills birds and is in some cases damn unsightly; solar’s great but do we really want to cover vast swaths of the desert with machinery and industry (and why isn’t distributed solar getting a *lot* more effort)? I am also coming to believe that, given our failure to treat the climate/energy crisis with a World War II-like mentality, we have probably already doomed ourselves to being forced to try bioengineering; this will pose many ethical, political and practical dilemmas.
What issue or public discussion is in most need of investigative journalistic oversight in the West today?
Wow, that’s a hard one. There is so much. I’m going to go with InvestigateWest’s strong suit and answer environment/public health/government accountability. With the decline of newspapers, the traditional core of the newsgathering ecosystem and the medium historically most likely to produce in-depth journalism, we’ve seen reporters in the environment/public health area increasingly thought of as a luxury. And yet actual conditions in some cases are deteriorating. For example, our partnership with EarthFix on water pollution has uncovered huge failures in the Clean Water Act, which stand to get worse as our infrastructure ages. Fortunately, we may be seeing movement to fill this crucial niche of environmental/public health journalism. EarthFix, the public broadcasting network of environmental reporters across the Northwest and based at Oregon Public Broadcasting, is an example. InvestigateWest is another.
What has been a consistent challenge you have faced throughout your career, as a journalist concerned with human and environmental health?
Attention span. Of the audience, not me. Some of the most important topics in the human and environmental health field are really incredibly complex, and yet also very important. Example: our stories that resulted in Washington being the first state to ban a class of toxic asphalt sealants drew upon a vast, lengthy and quite intricate body of scientific research. There is no way in a reasonable-sized text story or broadcast to go into even a large fraction of that. So the challenge is to distill and telescope down this important information without oversimplifying. I go by Albert Einstein’s maxim: “Make everything as simple as possible – but not simpler.”
Is the freedom of information meaningless without the freedom to implement the solutions that the information suggests? How have you had success in creating change with the information you produce?
In my view, freedom of information is inherently empowering. It’s why I, like so many fellow journalists, went into this profession: We want to change the world to make it better. Journalism at its best is a change agent. (Although there are plenty of other ways that freedom of information makes change. Witness Arab Spring and the way those events were catalyzed by new information-sharing technology.) Yes, I have personally had quite a lot of success at making change. I was one of only a few journalists who consistently spent most of his or her time writing about the need for change in the Florida Everglades between the late ‘80s and the time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched what has become today one of the largest ecosystem-restoration projects on the face of the globe. With colleagues at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I consistently covered the declining health of Puget Sound, inspiring major changes in governance of efforts to rescue the Sound. (Much more reporting still needs to be done on both the Everglades and Puget Sound to keep those efforts moving ahead; the task is certainly not done, but I count what happened in reaction to our reporting to be progress.) With my colleagues at InvestigateWest, I’ve been more successful than any journalist has a right to be at effecting change over the last three years. Our list includes: three public-safety laws passed by the Washington Legislature, two of which were firsts for any state in the country; changes in the way sexual-assault victims are treated at Reed College in Oregon; and a $100,000 grant for community groups studying health disparities among people who live around the Duwamish River Superfund site in southern Seattle. Freedom of information definitely can and should lead to meaningful change.
Leave a Reply
Articles On Ideas
Ideas: Lessons learned, perspectives, advice and more by and for organizers working toward a more democratic society.
- Jun 5 US Climate Movement: Funnel Money Downward if You Want to Survive
- Jan 12 For Teachers and Citizens: How to Respond to Federal Immigration Raids
- Jan 5 How To Respond When Your (Local) Government Gets Sued By A Corporation
- Dec 8 Occupy’s Not So Invisible Work
- Dec 8 Getting Specific About What We Want
- Dec 8 National Sovereignty At Stake
- Dec 8 Lessons Learned By A Federal Enforcer
- Dec 8 Sacred Democracy-The Marriage of the Ethical and the Moral
- Dec 8 A Briefing On The State-Owned Bank of North Dakota
- Nov 8 Politicizing a Social Worker
- Nov 8 Sacred Democracy-Enlightenment and Democracy
- Oct 8 The People Know Best, Should We Listen?
- Oct 8 Sacred Democracy-Democracy: a Work in Progress
- Oct 8 Dispatches from Denmark-Ærø
- Oct 8 Protect The Local Initiative Process-Why Support WA Initiative 517
- Oct 8 Questions for a County Council Could-Be
- Sep 8 A Brief Chat about Workers’ Rights
- Sep 8 Sacred Democracy-Glimmers of Empathy in the Shadows of History
- Aug 8 Native Resilience and Interethnic Cooperation: How Natives are adapting to climate change, and helping their non-Native neighbors follow suit
- Aug 8 Imagining a New Society: Comparisons from Iceland
- Aug 8 Sacred Democracy-Rites of Nature
- Jul 8 Sacred Democracy-The Beatitudes of Fairness
- Jul 8 Speaking With a ‘Fractivist’: Data Acquisition to Federal Exemptions
- Jul 8 Selections from the Public News Service-July 2013 (Audio)
- Jul 8 How the Declaration of Independence got Hijacked
- Jun 10 A Bright Future: Creative, Passionate Students at Class Academy in Portland Participate in Read the Dirt Environmental Writing Contest
- Jun 8 (Audio): Read the Dirt’s Coverage of the 2013 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference
- Jun 8 Sacred Democracy-Living Democracy as Spiritual Practice (Or Vice Versa)
- May 8 Sacred Democracy-The Moral Blueprint
- May 8 Transforming Faith
- Feb 25 Park Rangers to the Rescue
- Feb 11 Washington’s Renewables: An Introduction
- Dec 12 Species Banks
- Nov 23 Our Slaves
- Nov 17 NW Coal Ports: Voice your concerns, voice them loud!
- Nov 13 Meditations on our Future
- Nov 4 Book: Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence
- Oct 14 Equity, Environmental Justice, and Industrial Pollution in Portland
- Oct 8 Cities advising Counties?
- Sep 12 Talking with Washington State Legislators-Stanford
- Aug 26 Talking with Washington State Legislators-Pollet
- Aug 21 Help! I’m being Climate Changed!
- Jul 14 Questionnaire for the authors of: THE GOLDILOCKS PLANET The 4 Billion Year Story of Earth’s Climate-Oxford University Press
- Jun 17 Can City Planning Make Us Cooler, Healthier and Friendlier?
- Jun 11 The Results-2012
- Mar 25 Making Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (Part 1)
- Mar 8 Our Right To Know
- Jan 18 PROTECT ONLINE FREEDOM—READ THE DIRT DEPENDS ON IT!
- Dec 23 Talking About Our Nuclear Hazard
- Oct 28 Why make Mt. St. Helens a National Park?
- Oct 20 The Story behind the Book, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest
- Jun 23 McKibben Comments on Expansion of Coal Exports at Cherry Point (Whatcom County)
- Apr 3 WASTED POWER
- Dec 20 Meet Some Environmental Consultants
- Dec 5 Using Dirt to Teach
- Oct 21 The We, The I and The Dirt
- Oct 21 Turning Pollution Into Energy
- Oct 21 Orange and Green
- Oct 21 Election 2010: Talk with a WA State Supreme Court Candidate (Wiggins)
- Oct 21 Election 2010: Talk with a WA State Supreme Court Candidate (Chief Justice Madsen)
- Oct 20 Our Dirty Web Designer (Video)