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Environmental journalist offers advice to students

by Christine Ah Yee, staff writer


Reporting on the natural environment of Hawai‘i means recognizing that there are not two sides to every story, but many, said Jan Tenbruggencate, the Honolulu Advertiser’s environment reporter.
“ It’s hard to say what angle a story will take until you sift through all of the information, maybe from a human standpoint or maybe to speak for the environment,”said Tenbruggencate.

On Nov.16 he spoke to about 20 HPU students, most of whom were from the COM 3804, Environmental Communication. 

The class project is a creation of a Web site focusing on an HPU marine sciences project to track global warming via ocean measurements. The aim of Tenbruggencate’s visit was to offer the Environmental Communication students a journalist’s perspective. The E-Com class focuses on the many perspectives that come into play when communicating about environmental issues. Students in the E-Com class concluded that they preferred to take a journalistic approach to the Web site, which will aim to offer balanced information, credible sources, attributed information, and links to their sources. This will allow their visitors to the site to check the accuracy of the work being done as well as learn more about specific environmental topics related to global warming.

Tenbruggencate offered the students some advice about the reporter’s approach to environmental coverage. “In order to understand the scientist you interview,” he said, reporters should take introductory courses in biology and chemistry because these will provide enough science background to understand science jargon. He also recommended that reporters tell the scientist to explain the information they have as if the reporter knows nothing about the subject. This is usually the case.

Tenruggencate’s path to becoming an environment reporter was anything but direct. After graduating from high school on Moloka‘i, he moved to ‘Oahu to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. He slipped through 11 different majors before declaring journalism as his concentration. Readers are grateful for his decision.

“ If you are bored easily and want change, then journalism is for you,” said the award-winning reporter.

Tenbruggencate advised all journalists that it is important for reporters to tell both sides of the story. It is critical that reporters keep their integrity and objectivity; if they lose it why should people listen to them? Hawai‘i is a close, tight-knit community, and people talk. Many of them are leery of reporters because they have ill-treated their sources for the sake of a story or been careless about the accuracy of what they report. Tenbruggencate stressed that it is critical for stories to accurately attribute sources or risk losing them.

Although his primary responsibility is news of Kaua‘i, Tenbruggencate does not limit his newsgathering to any specific island. In fact, his newspaper column is embraced by the people of Hawai‘i for accurately reporting specific island issues. He is well known for localizing stories. For example he said “the initial result of global warming was observed by the scientist of Mauna Kea.”

Tenbruggencate is knowledgeable about the issues that affect Hawai‘i and has been friends with many of those he interviews for stories. Nainoa Thompson and the Hokule‘a is a good example. Invited by Thompson to sail on the Hokule'a as a reporter and crewmember, Tenbrug-gencate jumped at the chance knowing visitors are seldom allowed. The experience made him appreciate the crew and allowed him to report on the coral issues of the North- western Hawaiian Islands. To Tenbruggencate, this was the highlight of his career. Today, Thompson and Tenbruggencate remain good friends.

He encouraged the E-Com students to search for stories about things that the public needs to be aware of that will affect them. Invasive species, for example are a threat to Hawai‘i’s agriculture. Overfishing is making seafood more expensive and wasting unsold fish. Pollution-—such as the three tons of netting in Kane‘ohe Bay—is destroying the islands’ coral reefs.




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