& the West
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2020 Stanford Graduate Wins Journalism Award

Madison Pobis, ’20, is among the winners of the Society of Environmental Journalists 19th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment for her article, “Small farmers wait for California’s groundwater hammer to fall.”

Madison Pobis, ’20, is among the winners of the Society of Environmental Journalists 19th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment. (Image credit: Steve Castillo)

Written for Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, the story reports on the ways small farmers in California are preparing for severe cutbacks on their groundwater allowances in the initial planning stages of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

“What’s so exciting about this story is how it uses novel storytelling techniques to capture the scale of groundwater issues in California,” Pobis said. “This award is special for me because it validates that a character-driven narrative can be just as rigorously reported, illuminating and essential to readers as a hard-hitting exposé.”

To produce the multimedia report – which includes photos, videos and data visualizations – Pobis interviewed researchers, groundwater managers and wildlife biologists to understand California’s water landscape. Then, she traveled to Turlock, CA, to film three farmers grappling with the impacts of the SGMA on their family land.

“You really feel for these farmers because you understand just how serious the consequences are if they aren’t able to adapt,” Pobis said. “As my editors and I were putting the story together, we were constantly thinking about how to maintain the tension between the big picture and the individual perspectives, while also making sure that the pieces flowed together naturally.”

Pobis grew up in South Carolina. She graduated from Stanford in June with a B.S. in Earth systems and notation in science communication, as well as an M.A. in earth systems, environmental communication with a focus on integrated multimedia storytelling. At Stanford, she also was an editorial assistant for the blog …& The West, where her article was published. Pobis is currently the science communication fellow at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, where she creates multimedia content.

The Society of Environmental Journalists contest is the world’s largest and most comprehensive environmental journalism competition. This year, the organization received 499 entries and awards were given in 11 categories. Pobis placed first in the Outstanding Student Reporting category. She and the other contest winners will be honored at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Virtual Conference in September.

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