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Pulitzer Center Update December 5, 2008

Journalists Reach Out to LC on ‘Water Wars’ & Media Coverage


By Lauren Preston

Originally published in The Pioneer Log
One billion people do not have access to clean water. 4,000 children die from diarrhea each day. Water-borne diseases kill more people in East Africa than AIDS. These were only a few of the myriad of statistics thrown out into the audience last Thursday night.

After four months in Eastern Africa, journalists Sarah Stuteville, Jessica Partnow and Alex Stonehill had a lot to say on the subject of water, and the Lewis & Clark community was eager to ask questions. Working with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Stuteville, Partnow and Stonehill are attempting to change the way Americans receive international media through their latest project titled "Water Wars."

According to Stuteville, most of our news comes from "the wires," or news distributors that send out international information to the major media companies. "It's creating mono international news," said Stuteville.

In an attempt to remedy this lack of international coverage, the three journalists set off to Ethiopia and Kenya to report on a lesser known, yet crucial topic: water. The journalists outlined the issue as problems of water scarcity, access to water, water sanitation and resource management.

Although little media attention has been drawn to this subject, the three found significant evidence that climate change is seriously affecting the lives of the people living in the surroundings of Lake Victoria. "Th is is the canary in the mine for climate change," said Stuteville.

According to Stonehill, no one has been reporting this issue because the mass media for international news has an unbalanced focus on conflict, which is the end result of growing disasters such as water wars. "Journalism doesn't dig under those underlying issues," said Stonehill.

Using the photographs, video and radio media they created in East Africa, Stuteville, Partnow and Stonehill seek to remedy this imbalance by focusing on lesser known news.

"Our goal is to inform people about the issues that are going on," said Stonehill. "To show the scope of the issues."

With the creation of their self-formed group based in Seattle, Washington called The Language Project, the three journalists have recently focused on education outreach in the United States.

"There isn't enough emphasis on connecting those issues," added Stuteville. "These problems affect our security as well."

Using their website as communal grounds for discussion, the Language Project has visited several U.S. high schools to discuss water issues in attempts to inform youth.

The members of The Language Project were hopeful in working on the task of changing American media.

When asked how the people of Africa responded to their presence as American journalists, Stuteville said, "For the most part, people were eager to tell their story."

All that is left is for the rest of the world to hear it.