The producers of The State of Things, the hour-long radio program of WUNC, invited me on the program on Jan. 14, 2020, to discuss the wood pellet series I co-authored with Saul Elbein and Richard Stradling for the News & Observer of Raleigh. Here is the link to my 10-minute discussion with host Frank Stasio. The program was broadcast from Triad Stage in Greensboro before an audience of about 50 people.
The series has drawn a lot of attention — positive and critical. Saul and I have also come under what appears to be a coordinated attack on our reporting and professional integrity by the pellet industry, including the CEO of Enviva in a commentary he wrote for the N&O. It is all validation of the accuracy and importance of our reporting on an issue central to climate change and climate mitigation. We are both proud of how the N&O editors and Pulitzer Center have stood behind us, our reporting and the fairness and accuracy of the wood pellets project. Funding from the Pulitzer Center made our reporting possible.
Emel Salazar in La Oroya, Peru: “The life of the plant is more important than anything the pope says.” Photo by Jason Houston
Every Pulitzer Center journalist must ensure that his or her work will be published or broadcast before a grant is considered. That’s the model. They pay expenses so that your work can fill the gaps of news organizations that want foreign reporting, but no longer have staff abroad. When my Pulitzer turn came around around again last spring, I called an editor I’ve long admired but never had the opportunity to work for: John Drescher of the New & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. After explaining my project, he readily agreed to take one of my stories. I was thrilled.
So on Sept. 20, 2015, I had my first page 1 story in a Sunday daily newspaper since I left the News & Record in Greensboro in May 1998. That’s a long time before Sunday fronts, but given that the N&O practically cleared page 1 for me and published all 1,900 words I wrote, plus several photos, it was worth the wait. It’s funny, but in buying papers in Chapel Hill, I felt the same thrill I did when I was a kid, seeing my first byline in print.
Front page, The Sunday News & Observer, Sept. 20, 2015. Photo by Justin Catanoso
The mayor of Cocachacra take me to the controversial mine copper mine site that he and 3,000 farmers have been battling to a stalemate since 2009. Photo by Enrique Ortiz
The name of my project for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is:
Saving Eden: Francis Exerts His Moral Authority. “Latin America’s first pope derides our “throw-away” culture while offering a stern prescription for environmental protection. Will those who revere him in his native region follow his lead?”
I explain the background and premise of my project in this video, which was shot on location in Peru and edited by Michael Frierson, professor of film at UNC-Greensboro, It turned out really well, with assistance from Enrique Ortiz and Emilia Catanoso.
Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and environmental protection. Released at the Vatican in June 2015. Photo by Justin Catanoso
In early May, Jon Sawyer, founder and executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, asked me to take on a special assignment. He believed it was tailor-made for me. The topic: Pope Francis’ upcoming already-controversial encyclical, or Catholic, teaching document on climate change and environment protection. The premise: how is the document being received in Latin American, the popular pope’s home region. I was honored to accept the assignment.
After being able to cover the Vatican press conference on June 18 while in Rome with my Wake Forest travel writing students, I traveled to Peru twice during the summer — a total of three weeks — to report the story. I was joined by incredible professionals such as guide and consultant Enrique Ortiz, fixer Aldo Villanueava, photographer Jason Houston, and for two weeks, my daughter Emilia Catanoso, who was my first photographer.
In Peru’s Amazon jungle with biologist Miles Silman. Photo by Ken Feeley.
My reporting on the impact of climate change on tropical forests such as those in Peru’s Amazon Basin was sponsored in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C. This invaluable organization makes it possible for freelance foreign correspondents to cover important stories around the world that otherwise would go unreported. Each Pulitzer reporter is asked to produce a Meet the Journalist video that explains his or her project.