From staff reports
Students in classes ranging from geography to computer-assisted reporting had the chance to interact with nationally recognized authors Erik Reece and Jeff Goodell, Ohio University's Earth Week keynote speakers, and learn how various fields relate to the week's theme of environmental justice.
Reece and Goodell have earned national attention for their accounts of the impact the coal industry has had on the Appalachian region.
Goodell, who spoke to instructor Steven Siff's computer-assisted reporting class Wednesday afternoon, noted that early in his career, he hoped to be a novelist. But after capturing some of the most compelling stories about the three-day struggle in 2002 to rescue Quecreek, Pa., miners who were trapped underground for his book "Big Coal," he realized his strength in narrative storytelling.
A contributing editor for Rolling Stone and frequent contributor for The New York Times Magazine, Goodell highlighted how blogging and YouTube have changed reporting. Students had studied an array of his articles for several weeks prior to the discussion.
"It was really helpful learning from someone who has had such a great career in the traditional media industry," online journalism major Jen Monroe said. "He talked about how print and television are on the way out and how there's a growing need for writers in other mediums."
Computer assisted-reporting teaches students how database analysis can help them manage information and statistics they gather for their stories. Goodell stressed the pressing need for computer-assisted reporting classes, especially in preparing students to report on environmental issues.
"Oftentimes, it's all about numbers," he said. "It's more important as our culture gets more data driven."
Reece visited instructor instructor Mary Abowd's magazine feature writing class Monday as well as Associate Professor of Geography Geoff Buckley's Appalachia: Land and People class and Assistant Professor of Film Jack Wright's Appalachia through Film class on Wednesday. He told students he didn't realize the destructiveness of mountain-top removal coal mining until he began researching the topic for a Harper's Magazine article.
"I used to go out and look at these mountain tops where I could look back and see a beautiful view of the forest," Reece told Buckley's class. "Then they were just blown off, and the ridge line completely disappeared. It was like a vertigo being in a place where you used to be between mountains and now it's just flat. It's gut-wrenching."
He encouraged students in each class not to shy away from taking on the big issues in their work. Although he was at first overwhelmed by the scope of the Harper's article, it led him to publish his award-winning book "Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness."
"There is a lot of power in storytelling," Reece told Abowd's class. "People are really willing to tell their stories, and you find that everyday people are heroes fighting big battles."
In Wright's class, Reece referenced Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" as one example of how a well-done documentary can have a huge impact. He also challenged students to fight the common stereotypes of Appalachia.
"There are a lot of reasons mountaintop removal doesn't get covered in the news," he said. "One of them is that when people think about the Appalachian Mountains, they think they are occupied by ignorant, moonshine-drinking, barefoot hillbillies. And this incorrect image gets carried through the media."
Students' questions throughout the day revealed a diverse range of environmental interests. Carbon credits and global warming, the merits of eco-terrorism, trespassing versus the public's right to know and this year's presidential candidates were among the topics discussed.
"Today was inspiring," said video production major Corey Schneider. "Coal is a huge issue in Appalachia. What Reece had to share was really relevant."
Added integrated social studies major Shane Saum: "It has helped me gain a new perspective on geography, and I realized it's an important subject for everyone to learn more about. It is more than just maps. Americans tend to have a view that there are things that exist just to exist, and that isn't true. If they understood what they were doing to the environment and its effects on us, then maybe there would be less damage."
Student writers Meredith McInthosh, Eva Simeone, Katie Taybus and Laura Yates compiled this report.