Left to right: Peter Prengaman (AP); Crystal Thompson (CAP); Alex Hager (KUNC); Hunter Bassler (12 News)
The 2022 Colorado River Water Users Association meetings are setting records for attendees. It has never before sold out. This time, it has.
It literally has “sold out” of credentials for media, too. The halls of the Caesar’s Palace vast meeting-room levels are swarming with more media than these meetings ever have seen before. This “colloquium” gives attendees a unique window into the news world and how it covers Colorado River water issues.
Peter Prengaman, an environmental news editor at the Associated Press, describes a package of Colorado River stories that AP and other journalists have created for AP subscribers, including Arizona publications such as the Yuma Sun and the Arizona Daily Star.
AP, says Prengaman, previously covered climate-change issues as a science story. In this latest Colorado River series, as well as in other coverage, the news service is attempting to examine climate change more “holistically,” including pursuing stories on water issues around the world.
“A lot of people are only now starting to engage with climate change,” he said. “But the science, really, is 40 or 50 years old.”
Alex Hager, a reporter who produces NPR-style stories for public radio at his home station of KUNC, as well as for numerous other public-radio stations around the US and Canada. In addition, he produces written web features on his subjects, which include a considerable number of stories related to the Colorado River.
His work on the Colorado River is funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Hager observes that there is “a strict firewall” between his reporting and the funding foundation.
Hager notes that a lot of his story subject come from sources “other than PR pitches.” That got a laugh from the audience, which seems to include a fair number of PR people.
Like a great many other people who are attempting to understand the complex issues facing the Colorado River, Hager acknowledges that learning the complex language of water has been a continuous challenge.
Hunter Bassler of KPNX, Channel 12 in Phoenix, is a digital reporter and producer, mainly for the news station’s website.
“Visually showing the effects of climate change is pretty difficult,” said Bassler.
Through his online articles, he said, TV reporters can see whether a story can translate into something they can turn for television. Water stories, he said, need to be interesting, accurate and digestible – a real problem, he acknowledges, given their complexity.
“Water agencies have done a fine job of making water data available online,” he observed.
Jerd Smith of Fresh Water News, a service provided by Water Education Colorado, described how her news service was created to help bolster the dwindling coverage afforded by traditional news media whose newsrooms have been decimated in recent years from layoffs.
“We share our content with media organizations across (Colorado),” said Smith.
Smith noted the importance of including maps with water stories, since “all water stories are local stories.” She pointed out the need for reporters to “get out and build relationships” rather than report from “your closets and basements” – an issue that to many observers became much more serious during the pandemic.
Teal Lehto, who bills herself as “Western Water Girl,” produces water-related videos on Tik Tok, a video-format social media platform that “is the most popular platform” for people under 30, she observed. Lehto has over 50,000 regular viewers.
Like Public Radio’s Alex Hager, she said, “I also use my closet as my studio.”
Lehto noted that she only started her water-news video platform in April. “And, now, here I am up here (on a CRWUA panel) today.”
“My platform is proof that young people are interested and will be engaged, but only if you are speaking their language,” she said.