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Event highlights role of environmental journalists

By Jessica Federkeil, Point Park News Service:

Curt Guyette, investigative journalist with ACLU of Michigan, will not be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize, despite his work as one of the driving forces behind uncovering the water crisis in Flint, Mich.

Guyette accepts that a Pulitzer will be out of his reach while working with the ACLU, an advocacy organization, because what really matters to Guyette is uncovering the truth.

“We all worked together to get the truth about the water,” Guyette said. “This was a group effort, and the driving force was the residents of Flint. The citizens pushed the city and state for the truth.”

ACLU Michigan investigative reporter Curt Guyette visited Point Park to discuss his work during the Flint water crisis. Photo by Jessica Federkeil.
ACLU Michigan investigative reporter Curt Guyette, right, visited Point Park to discuss his work during the Flint water crisis. Photo by Jessica Federkeil.

Guyette didn’t need a PowerPoint presentation or a formal speech to get across his story to the audience of about 150 people, who were on hand for the event “From Flint to Your Faucet.”

“From my perspective it was an incredibly interesting evening,” Guyette said. “We covered a lot of good interesting questions both from the moderator and the audience. I am really proud to have been a part of the whole event.”

The event that was held in the University’s GRW Theater on March 15 served as the launch to the new environmental journalism program in partnership with The Heinz Endowments.

“I feel like this event really drove home the link between environmental journalism and investigative journalism,” Sabrina Bodon, 19, freshman journalism major at Point Park University said. “I thought it was just a really strong effort by everyone who was a part of the event.”

Despite all the recognition Guyette, 59, has received, he still goes back to discussions about the possible outcomes of his investigation with the ACLU before he began his work.

“The best case scenario would have been not to find a problem with the water,” Guyette said. “The ACLU could have gone in front of the people of Flint and assured the people the water is safe.”

We know now that was not the case. Despite the constant reassurance from government officials in Mich. that the water was safe, tests came back showing the lead contamination in the residents of Flint’s water.

Guyette gave students interested in investigative reporting some things to keep in mind when working on a story.

“Find experts you can trust,” Guyette said. “You can’t always trust the people in the industry. In the case of Flint, you couldn’t even trust the politicians. You need to go past the anecdotal to get the facts.”

Students who attended the event seemed to truly connect with Guyette’s advice.

“What I will really take away from this event is the advice that Curt gave,” Hannah Lapiska, 20, a sophomore journalism and mass communications major at Point Park University said. “I found he was incredibly knowledgeable. He really knows what he is talking about.”

Photo by Jessica Federkeil.
A panel moderated by Andrew Conte included (from left to right) Brentin Mock, of CityLab.com; Myron Arnowitt, of Clean Water Action; Guyette; and Kathy Knauer, of the Allegheny Front. Photo by Jessica Federkeil.

Following his personal story, Guyette was joined by a panel made up of Kathy Knauer of the Allegheny Front, Brentin Mock of The Atlantic’s Citylab.com, and Myron Arnowitt of Clean Water Action.

The panel offered journalism students the chance to see a brighter future for their careers post graduation.

“As a student studying journalism it gives me a ray of hope in life,” Bodon said. “Hearing from Brentin that it is okay to fail sometimes was a great reminder. Its good to hear that even after you fail, you can keep going.”

The panel took up topics such as the safety of Pittsburgh’s tap water, racial inequality and what working for a nonprofit group really means.

“You could see how all the panelists agreed as they nodded their heads along with the answers of the other panelists,” Lapiska said. “The fact that all of them agree gives us hope that something better is coming through way of advocacy.”

Andrew Conte, director of the Point Park News Service and investigative reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, hopes with the opening of the University’s new Media Innovation Center next fall, events with speakers, such as Guyette, will happen more frequently to help students see examples of success.

“Everyone talks about managing decline, doom and gloom, and all the terrible things that are happening in journalism,” Conte said. “This event seemed to offer more of a positive vibe. You are starting to hear about some thing’s that are starting to work. There are a lot of creative ideas out there, things are starting to happen.”

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