May 2013

Spotlight on: Lisa Song ’09

LisaSongInside_spotlightIn May, we spoke with Lisa Song, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for Inside Climate News. She is a 2009 graduate of our program but came to us with a BS degree from MIT in environmental science. She interned at the radio program Living on Earth and currently resides in the Boston area.

GPSW: First of all, let me congratulate you on winning the Pulitzer Prize this year for your work. Did you pick the dilbit (diluted bitumen) story, or was it assigned to you?

Lisa Song:Thanks! I’m really lucky to work at a publication that supports in-depth reporting. The dilbit story was an extension of our coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline. Elizabeth McGowan started reporting on the pipeline in 2010, and I started in 2011. We talked to a lot of residents along the route who worried about how an oil spill from the proposed pipeline would impact their drinking water. So in late 2011 Elizabeth took a trip to Marshall, Michigan, the site of a 2010 million-gallon dilbit spill. It was a real-life case study of their concerns, and Elizabeth interviewed residents, regulators, and the company responsible for the spill. She soon realized it was a huge story and spent seven months writing The Dilbit Disaster e-book. I got pulled into it about halfway through to help with the science part. It turns out there’s very little research about dilbit that’s available to the public; so I used government reports, industry sites, petroleum engineering textbooks, and interviews with oil spill experts. After the Dilbit Disaster was published, David Hasemyer helped us write follow-up stories about regulations, pipeline safety, and the construction of the replacement pipeline. So it was a huge team effort. And Susan White, the editor for the series, was/is incredible. Her name should be on this award.

GPSW: Where do you work from, and what made you choose to live there?

Lisa: Because we’re a virtual organization, I could work from anywhere. But I grew up around Boston and a lot of my friends are still here, so that’s where I live.

GPSW: What is it like, working for a web-only publication whose writers and editors are rarely, if ever, in the same place at the same time?

Lisa: It’s kind of weird, but I’m used to it by now. I spend a lot of time on the phone discussing story ideas and edits. We rely on track changes, conference calls, and Google docs.

GPSW: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Lisa: More dilbit reporting: the Michigan spill cleanup is ongoing, and there was another dilbit spill in Arkansas last month, so there are plenty of stories on my to-do list. I keep hoping the news will slow down or temporarily stop so I can catch up!

GPSW: What’s your favorite kind of story to research/interview/write?

Lisa: Stories that might have an impact by correcting a misconception or pointing out some kind of flaw. I’m also a big fan of wrangling data into coherent stories (I attended an IRE boot camp on computer-assisted reporting and thoroughly enjoyed the geekiness).

GPSW: You’ve accomplished quite a bit for a 26-year-old. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Lisa: Still reporting, I hope! There are so many science and environmental stories that deserve to be told. I’d love to do more multimedia and data journalism, too.

GPSW: What is your fondest memory of MIT?

Lisa: This didn’t happen on the MIT campus, but I would have to say one of the many field trips I took with the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences department–anything that involves camping, extreme weather, and geologists guarantees adventure.

GPSW: Milk, dark, or flavored chocolate?

Lisa: Dark, ~70 percent cacao.