It turns out maybe trees don’t need the Lorax after all, if they can speak for themselves.
I recently started following one of the oldest living organisms on Twitter: A century-old red oak in Massachusetts’ Harvard Forest started sending out its own messages this summer at @AWitnessTree.
Outfitted with sensors that measure its radius, soil temperature, the changing color of its leaves and more, the oak has been messaging lately about the wind lashing its branches, a heavy rainfall swelling its bark and the acorns it has been dropping for squirrels, blue jays and others to carry away.
With so much hyperbolic language on social media, it feels refreshing to read tweets from a source of information with decades of stability and deep roots (not to mention help from a team of Harvard University researchers).
Similarly, several media outlets in our region have been collaborating to give voice to the Ohio River and its watershed. After following the tree on Twitter, I signed up to start receiving text messages about the river. Readers can learn about the watershed and offer their own stories and questions before the project officially launches next month.
PublicSource, Pittsburgh’s nonprofit news outlet, has teamed up with six other newsrooms across five states to cover almost the entire length of the river from here in Pittsburgh, through Ohio and southern Indiana, to just short of Cairo, Illinois, where it flows into the Mississippi River.
Philadelphia’s Lenfest Institute and the National Geographic Society are supporting the project with a $125,000 grant and other resources. Participating news organizations include The Allegheny Front, 100 Days in Appalachia in West Virginia, Belt Magazine in Cleveland, Louisville Public Media, the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism and Environmental Health News.
“The project is going to be hitting on the environment but also culture and recreation,” PublicSource Managing Editor Halle Stockton told me. “It’s a pretty broad swath, so we can really get a sense of what the communities are like but also thinking about the past, now and the future.”
When they first started talking about the project, the reporters realized they would have to balance the Ohio River watershed’s beauty with its industrial uses and its environmental and health risks. Despite serving as drinking water for millions of people, the Ohio supports billions of dollars of industry and might be the nation’s most polluted river, I learned by text.
National Geographic Society calls this “wonder and worry.” The project will not appear in the magazine or on television but National Geographic is providing resources such as a photographer to capture images and other visual help.
Media collaborations have become popular in an industry once dominated by news outlets trying to undercut each other, and this one has a unique twist because it follows the river valley for nearly 1,000 miles, or more if you count tributaries and the entire watershed.
The reporters first met up in May to kick off the project with some brainstorming. Each media outlet will be able to access funding for reporting, traveling, records fees and marketing.
The collaboration allows PublicSource’s reporters to build on their networks of colleagues throughout the Midwest, and it allows all of the media outlets to provide deeper and wider coverage than any of them could do on their own.
“It’s an interesting twist to think about reporting in that way but it makes a lot of sense because the ecosystem is affected by this river that runs through all of these communities and states,” Stockton said.
“Everything that is done in that watershed that can affect water sources is something that we all feel. … It’s very pressing that we, as citizens of this watershed, start to think about this like a region.”
The project launches Nov. 14 at OhioWatershed.org and will last through late January. You may sign up to message about the river (the closest thing to messaging with it), by sending the word OHIO to 412-528-6575.
Comings & goings
PublicSource has added two new journalists: Nicole C. Brambila, who had been working for the Tribune-Review’s investigative team, will cover local government. And Jay Manning, who had been a visuals fellow at PublicSource, is coming on as a photojournalist for a two-year fellowship.
- Mike Sauter, who had been WYEP’s program director was promoted to station manager.
- Newly hired Erin Keane Scott takes over as director of Audiences & Brand Strategy at PCBC.
- Katie Boylan has started as development services coordinator.
- Sarah Kovash is transitioning to a new role as digital director for both WESA and WYEP, from her previous role as digital engagement editor.
- Alisha Rinefierd was promoted to traffic manager and production assistant.
- And Doug Shugarts has joined the station as Morning Edition editor and producer, coming to Pittsburgh from WGBH in Boston.
Andrew Conte, director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You may find all of his columns here, and you may reach him at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com.