Covering Water in a Changing World

A Free Specialized Reporting Institute from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

November 12 -13, 2015
Gainesville, FL

Harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, massive “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, deepening conflicts over water in historically wet states like Florida: Reporters need not only the scientific background to cover complex water quality and quantity stories, but new strategies for explaining the climate-change angles in ways that don’t turn off their audiences.

The Covering Water in a Changing World specialized reporting institute, funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and in conjunction with the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment, is designed for any journalist or weather broadcaster reporting on water issues and the impact of climate change. We will use a combination of journalist, science and industry experts to tackle key challenges for journalists, including:

  • How to move beyond the rhetoric of blame and “water wars” toward helping your local audiences understand how water quality and water scarcity problems are affecting them and identify possible solutions.
  • How to communicate the climate-change angles so crucial to each of these issues, when the very term has become so polarizing.
  • How to report about these issues in a way that will engage audiences and help them understand their impact on water.

Sessions for the SRI include:

Elemental water. An overview of U.S. water resources, at the surface, in the atmosphere, and in aquifers (where most Americans get their household water). USGS will give us an overview of where our water comes from, how much we use, and how our regions are intimately tied together on water, ie, fertilizer spread in the Midwest today can end up in a toxic plume in the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow.

Paddle and Picnic: Our water overview continues as we paddle side by side with scientists down the Ichetucknee River. Its limestone outcroppings and springs make it one of the few places in the United States where you can see what is usually hidden underground: the inextricable links between groundwater and surface water, and those between pollution and drinking-water supply.

Quality: Harmful algal blooms and pollution issues, from Peoria to Palm Beach. Forty years after the Clean Water Act, the United States is facing a new scourge of pollution, including harmful algae blooms that have tainted drinking water in Toledo and shut down beaches in Florida. Scientists from Ohio Sea Grant and Florida Sea Grant will join water journalist Tom Henry of the Toledo Blade to help us translate the new water-quality threats to our audiences.

Water talk: Threats heightened by warming waters and poorly maintained infrastructure are threatening public supply – and laying bare the flawed way we pay for water. Directors from public and private utilities join water journalist Cynthia Barnett to discuss covering water utilities and infrastructure in new ways.

Climate change and America’s coasts. From sea-level rise to coastal land-use, retreat and resilience, some of the earliest tangible impacts of climate change involve coastal water issues.

Extreme Weather and Climate Change: From epic droughts to more-extreme storms to heavier rainfall, weather stories increasingly have a climate change angle. Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman and NOAA’s Deke Arndt will help us navigate the nuances.

Solutions and Next Steps: We highlight some of the most engaging new ways journalists and news organizations are bringing water and climate stories to their audiences. We’ll brainstorm on story ideas for all participants, including possible angles and sources.


Natalia BayonaUniversity of Colorado BoulderColorado
David BergerUniversity of Illinois/Public MediaIllinois
Carol BrzozowskiFreelance journalistFlorida
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TVFlorida
Tamara DietrichThe Daily PressVirginia
Kevin DuffyGreat Lakes EchoMichigan
Susan DunlapMontana StandardMontana
William FunkFreelance journalistVirginia
Nancy GaarderOmaha World-HeraldNebraska
Christy GeorgeFreelance journalistOregon
Amy GreenWMFEFlorida
Nathan LynchJournal TribuneMaine
Padma NagappanFreelance Environmental ReporterCalifornia
Meredith Rutland BauerPleasanton WeeklyCalifornia
Amena SaiyidBloomberg BNAVirgina
Karen SchaeferFreelance journalistOhio
Lonnie ShekhtmanWorcester Telegram & GazetteMassachusetts
Natasja SheriffFreelanceNew York
Cheryl SmithTreasure Coast NewspapersFlorida
Tiffany SteckerEnvironment & Energy PublishingWashington, D.C.
Lana StraubWest Texas Public Radio/Texas Climate News/Earth Island JournalTexas
Terry TomalinTampa Bay TimesFlorida
Cammie BellamyThe StarNewsNorth Carolina
Cynthia DrummondThe Westerly SunRhode Island
Steve NewbornWUSF Public MediaFlorida
Cindy ChoiSun-SentinelFlorida
Kristine CraneOcala Star-BannerFlorida
Susan DeMar LaffertyChicago TribuneIllinois
Diana DombrowskiSamuel Proctor Oral History ProgramFlorida
Caraline DukeUF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and EcologyFlorida
Stephenie LivingstonFlorida Museum of Natural HistoryFlorida
Suzette CookThe TritonFlorida
Anmari AlvarezUniversity of FloridaFlorida/Cuba

Climate Change Communications Symposium

On the morning of Nov. 13, SRI attendees will also participate in a University-wide symposium on climate change communications where experts will share insights to help both scientists and journalists better tell the story of climate change. The symposium is a collaborative effort between the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, Water Institute, Florida Climate Institute and School of Natural Resources and Environment. More information →

Sessions include:

  • Climate Change Communications Research: Big Picture
  • Establishing Public Trust on Climate Change Science
  • Explaining Climate Change Through Weather
  • Communicating Science to Media

More information

If you have any questions, contact Ellen Nodine at