October 13, 2011
2011 Knight-Risser Prize winner hits 'holy grail' of explanatory journalism
A Denver magazine wins for unraveling Colorado's complicated relationship with water.
"Dry Times," a comprehensive report in Denver' 5280 magazine on state water shortages, is the winner of the 2011 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism.
The prize is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, both at Stanford University.
The winning authors, Natasha Gardner and Patrick Doyle, will receive $5,000 at the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium on Jan. 25 at Stanford. The symposium will be dedicated to the topic of western water issues.
"Dry Times" explores and explains Denver's water challenges through engaging text and imaginative graphics. It won for its clear and compelling presentation of a many-layered story of geography, history, land use and policy. The judges felt "Dry Times" hit the holy grail of explanatory journalism – making a complex and potentially dull topic easy to grasp and fun to read.
The six-year-old prize and symposium has just earned a permanent endowment through a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The prize sponsors, the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships and the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford, raised $100,000 to secure the $200,000 match grant.
The funds will support the Knight-Risser Prize program, which is dedicated to promoting sophisticated reporting about environmental issues affecting the North American West.
"In 12 short pages loaded with great graphics, the folks at 5280 managed to take a subject that only wonks can love and make it understandable by the common person," said Bradley Udall, a source for the story and the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Western Water Assessment, which is based at Colorado University.
"From agriculture to aging infrastructure, climate change to contamination, dishwashers to dams, and even recreation to re-use, the article conveys the multiple interactions and difficult trade-offs inherent in managing this precious and limited resource," he said.
"Water is a key topic in Colorado," said Gardner, one of the authors. "You can't go to a city council meeting without the issue coming up. People fight, argue, theorize and have all kinds of conversations around the issues. You can't talk about policy without talking about the personal."
Judging by readers' responses, their stories, published in April 2010, had an effect, Gardner said. "Teachers still ask for PDFs to distribute to their classes. And we continue to hear feedback from residents that 'this is something we can do right now to cut our water use.'"