Dear Friends

 

A-potlucking we go

The far-flung board of directors of High Country News will soon gather in Paonia, Colo., for its second meeting of the year. Following an all-day session with staff on Saturday, June 2, the board will host an evening potluck in Paonia's shady town park on Fourth Street and North Fork Avenue. All HCNreaders and friends are cordially invited to the potluck, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Bring a dish to share, as well as all the comments and ideas you've always wanted to lay on us. To RSVP, please call Robyn at 970/527-4898 or e-mail robyn@hcn.org.

Storytelling 101

It's a perennial dilemma for High Country News editors and writers: How do we tell a complex, policy-wonkish story in a way that is both entertaining and informative? HCN shies away from fluffy features. We'd rather dive into the hydrological and political details of the fight to save salmon on the Columbia River, or consider the evolving history of fire policy on the public lands.

This week, HCN publisher Ed Marston tackles perhaps the most complex water story in the West: the attempt by the Interior Department and the six states that share the Colorado River with California to curtail the Golden State's voracious thirst for the river's water. And, as usual, the editors here went back and forth on just how much detail to include in this story, which, written longer, could be a chapter in a follow-up book to Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert.

We know some readers eat these stories up, no matter how much information we pack in; to these hardy souls, environmental impact statements make fun bedtime reading. But many more readers need help staying interested in megawatts and acre-feet. Which is why we are always trying to improve our storytelling abilities. High Country News staffer Michelle Nijhuis recently listened to some advice from one of America's best radio storytellers - "This American Life's" Ira Glass. Speaking at a Las Vegas benefit for Nevada Public Radio in April, Glass said that his mission is to get old-fashioned storytelling back on the radio, so that listeners will actually pay attention and be touched by the issue at hand. "American news journalism has one mood, a kind of grim-faced seen-it-all dunderheadedness," he said. "But life is all mixed together, surprise and pleasure and amusement. Those emotions appear only rarely in traditional news journalism."

To emphasize his point, Glass played a cut of NPR reporter Daniel Zwirdling covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The head of a local bird-care center told Zwirdling that Dawn dishwashing liquid was the best way to clean up oily birds. He immediately pounced on this detail and asks her to elaborate on the wonders of Dawn. It was a surprising and funny moment in an otherwise grim report.

Though High Country News is no "This American Life," we'll continue to look for those surprising moments in our coverage of attention-span challenging issues.

New Interns

Growing up in the arid Southwest, new intern Laurel Jones remembers being berated with the constant repetition of: "Turn off the water! Turn out your lights!" It was only after going to college at Tufts University and reading books like Cadillac Desert that she fully realized the importance of these mantras. In the six years since graduating from college, Laurel has followed her interest in conservation issues, working with the Forest Service in eastern Oregon to assess the health of a watershed, and with California Department of Fish and Game to determine catch quotas for the Pacific herring fishery in San Francisco Bay.

While traveling around the Southwest in the summer of 1999, Laurel stopped by HCN to say hello and pick up some back issues of the paper. That brief glimpse of Paonia stuck with her, and when she quit her University of Colorado graduate program in biology this spring to focus on writing, the HCN internship was the first thing that came to mind.

Laurel says the onslaught of new construction and the ever-present hum of traffic on the Front Range were reasons enough to drive her west. She now spends evenings sitting on her front porch in the heart of metropolitan Paonia, listening to the roar of birds chirping and the cacophony of croaking frogs.

Rachel Jackson knows the difference between good drivers and bad drivers - and not just the kind behind the wheel. At her former job in Portland, Ore., she practiced public relations for Microsoft and regularly talked in drivers, betas and browsers. Here at High Country News she still has to contend with computers, albeit machines from an earlier era. But now she has other worries, such as the high country sunburn she got her first day here.

Rachel grew up in Grants Pass, a small town in southern Oregon, where she says her outdoorsy, environmentally conscious family was in the minority. In seventh grade, she feverishly debated the spotted owl controversy with classmates whose parents lost their timber mill jobs; she recalls one boy chanting, "save a logger, eat an owl," and even close friends labeled her a hippie. The experience taught her that environmental issues are "never black and white."

After high school, Rachel retreated to the liberal campus of Lewis and Clark College in Portland. There, an environmental history course curried a passion for writing about the environment; she plunged into a research project examining the effects of the Wild and Scenic Act on the Rogue River near her hometown. Rachel admits she got a thrill out of reading arcane land regulations, poring over local historical files and recording the stories of former placer miners, landowners and river rats.

To maintain the writing fix after graduation, Rachel contributed to the Bear Deluxe and Northwest Woman Magazine while working full time. Now she's keen to officially don the environmental reporter's hat.