ICN’s 'Harvesting Peril' Wins Prestigious Oakes Award for Environmental Journalism

The judges commended ICN’s reporting on agriculture and climate change for its 'trenchant insights' at a time of 'rising risks and persistent inaction.'

Harvesting Peril: Extreme weather and climate change on the American farm. An ICN series.

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism announced today that InsideClimate News' series Harvesting Peril: Extreme Weather and Climate Change on the American Farm has won the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism.

Harvesting Peril describes how the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm lobby, has worked to undermine climate science and derail climate policy, putting at risk the very farmers it represents. The stories were reported and written by Georgina Gustin, Neela Banerjee and John H. Cushman, Jr. after months of investigation, which included reviewing hundreds of documents and conducting more than 200 interviews. The series included in-depth graphic art by Paul Horn and an explanatory video by Gustin and Anna Belle Peevey.

The judges lauded the reporting team, writing: "InsideClimate News' smart reporting from the field, its engaging explanatory graphics, and its trenchant insights illuminated a problem that is getting increasing attention at a time of rising risks and persistent inaction."

The John B. Oakes Award honors the career of the late John B. Oakes, a pioneer of environmental journalism, who worked for The New York Times as a columnist, editorial writer and creator of the op-ed page. The award is given annually "for news reporting that makes an exceptional contribution to the public's understanding of environmental issues."

"It's tremendously gratifying to be honored with this award," said Stacy Feldman, ICN's executive editor. "John B. Oakes helped propel environmental issues into the national conversation. This is our mission, and it means so much to our team to be recognized at a time when reporting on earth's changing environment, and the political forces affecting its future, is so critical."

The four-part Harvesting Peril series revealed how the Farm Bureau has worked with fossil fuel allies over decades to sow uncertainty about the science of global warming and the need for solutions. It also examined the Farm Bureau's support of the federal crop insurance program, which provides security to farmers in a way that discourages the very farming methods that would help bring climate change under control. And it described how the agriculture industry has become an extractive industry, similar to the fossil fuel industry, locking in a system that degrades the soil, increases greenhouse gas emissions and is difficult to alter.

Click for an infographic explainer on agriculture and climate change

ICN won the Oakes award in 2016 for the series Exxon: The Road Not Taken. It was a finalist for the award in 2015 for the series Big Oil, Bad Air and in 2013 for The Dilbit Disaster.

The panel of Oakes judges represents a cross section of distinguished journalists and environmental specialists and is chaired by David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University.

ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine were awarded honorable mention for "Fuel to the Fire," an investigation into the environmental and climate effects of the palm oil boom in Indonesia. The Desert Sun received the other honorable mention for "Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border," a series on the environmental crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The award will be presented and finalists honored at a private event on Sept. 9 at the Columbia Journalism School.

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