Dead in the water

A veteran western water reporter says news entities in the West are not doing their job.

In a Columbia Journalism Review interview posted May 16, Arizona Republic and Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Shaun McKinnon said, “Water reporters are definitely an endangered group of people. It's too bad because we are getting into this time when it's probably a bigger issue than it ever has been. We need people who are out there watching and making sure everyone knows what is going on.”

Asked what issues need attention, McKinnon said, “Right now the biggest area we need to pay attention to is the effect of drought and climate change. … Drought and climate change are probably going to limit the water supply, and if they are, how are the various local water managers going to handle that?”

McKinnon elaborated to the RN&R:

“I've been fortunate at the Republic, where we still have a large enough staff to maintain strong beat reporters, but I know that's not the case everywhere. Water is a topic that needs a reporter who can put in the time to develop sources and, more important, build an understanding of some complex issues. You can't parachute into a big water story and then give readers or listeners the sort of nuanced telling they deserve. There are some good independent water writers online these days who are producing good reports, but their reach is limited. Meantime, not every paper devotes resources to a beat water reporter. It's not a topic that generates a lot of clicks or gotcha headlines and so I think it's increasingly seen as expendable.”

The full CJR interview can be read at