Stanford prize spotlights Western environmental journalism

Steve Ringman and Craig Welch standing infront of a screen that is showing a photo of a man scuba diving.
Photo journalist Steve Ringman, left,  and reporter Craig Welch (Photo Credit: Steve Castillo)

Seattle Times reporter Craig Welch and photographer Steve Ringman traversed the Pacific Ocean – from Papua New Guinea’s coral reefs to Alaska’s king crab fisheries – to see how carbon emissions are changing the ground rules for ocean life.

Their multimedia series “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn” earned them the 2014 Knight Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism.

The prize, which was presented to Welch and Ringman at a symposium on campus last week, is named for JAMES RISSER, director emeritus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. It is co-sponsored by the Knight Fellowships and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, with an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

In addition to receiving a cash award of $5,000, the winners participate in the annual Knight-Risser Prize Symposium, which brings journalists, researchers, scholars and policymakers together with public audiences to explore new ways to ensure that environmental reporting survives in the West. This year’s symposium was held last Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Threat to oceans

Welch and Ringman tackled a journalistic challenge: how to communicate about ocean acidification in a way that would engage Seattle Times readers. Ocean acidification is colorless, odorless and cannot be felt. But it has the power to change which marine animals survive, what they eat and how they behave.

During their yearlong investigation, Welch and Ringman interviewed more than 150 people, toured hatcheries, research labs and fish-processing plants. They went to the Washington tidelands and Hawaii, interviewing a longtime oyster-harvesting family forced to relocate half their production facilities to Hilo and boarded a crab boat on Alaska’s Bering Sea. They took scuba lessons and raised outside funds.

“The West is a rugged place,” said Risser in presenting the award at the annual symposium on campus last week. “But its environment constantly needs protection.”


LESLIE WILLOUGHBY is an intern at Stanford News Service.