Society of Environmental Journalists: Roanoke in October

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork co...Image via Wikipedia I get a lot of announcements and offers passing through my email each week as I’m sure you do, and most of it, I don’t give a second thought before hitting the delete key.

But when I learned from a local Floyd Countian about the Society of Environmental Journalists and particularly about their upcoming October conference in Roanoke, I sat up a little straighter. Hmmm.

Not that I’d call myself a journalist. The prospect of participation seemed quite abstract at first. Only a smallish portion of what I write about on the blog and for the two newspaper columns would be called environmental by most folks.

I’d do more of that kind of writing, but it doesn’t match the voice and brand established since 2002 for Fragments from Floyd. When I’ve gone there–and especially if I voice a strong opinion that tipped left or right on the matter at hand, I’ve been scolded. Really.

But the organization and conference looked interesting enough that I researched their membership guildelines, and passed the cut (with my various writing credentials I would not have had in 2002 when the writing started) and am now pleased to be a member.

For the past week, I’ve been enjoying their web resources–which are phenomenal–and my book appears on their “books by SEJ members list” that includes lots of heavy hitters (like former senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day and many full-time media journalists and successful freelancers from around the country.) I’m on several SEJ email list-servs, and the exchange is lively, informative and stimulating.

I’ve made plans to go to the Oct 15 – 19 conference (press release is here) even though it will cost some coinage out of that little purse of egg money I was talking about recently, including travel and meals. But here’s the thing: in most writer’s groups I am odd man out among pure academic English Major types, Appalachian writers, or poets. Here, I’ll be a word-processing tree hugger among credentialed tree hugger writers.

So. I’m hoping that my “environmental” focus on natural history education, appreciation and stewardship will fit in with the hard-core work these guys and gals do on the tough issues like mountaintop removal, vanishing resources and global warming. I expect to learn a lot, discover new outlets for the words and pixels, and make a friend or two.

I’m generally not a joiner. But I trust that this time, I have hitched my wagon to an engine that will carry me someplace worth going–or at least the journey will be interesting.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Welcome to SEJ, Fred! Like you, I’m not much of a joiner, either. But I’ve been part of SEJ now for 18 years and found it invaluable. Glad you think the online resources and listservs helpful, too, and really glad you’re planning to come to our annual shindig in Roanoke in October. The lineup’s fantastic. Hope more freelancers and free spirits can join us there and share knowledge and experiences. That cross-fertilization is what makes these conferences so invigorating. See you there!

    Tim Wheeler
    Reporter, The Baltimore Sun
    President, Society of Environmental Journalists

  2. Welcome, Fred! I’ll look for you in Roanoke.

    If you like the SEJ website now, wait till we launch the redesigned site in October! It’ll be ten times easier to find all the great resources we’ve got stashed away in little nooks and crannies on

    And to everyone reading this, you don’t have to be a member to take advantage of a lot of good stuff on the website. But if you cover the environment – even part-time – membership is an investment worth making!

    Christy George
    Special Projects Producer
    Oregon Public Broadcasting
    SEJ Board member