Spotlight on Metcalf Alumni: Neena Satija
Investigative reporter and radio producer Neena Satija envisioned a totally different career path when she began her freshman year of college at Yale University. “I thought I was going to go to medical school,” she said, until a writing class, a job at her college newspaper, and an internship at the Toledo Blade changed everything. “I was hooked,” said Satija. She went on to write for newspapers and a public radio station in Connecticut before accepting a job as environment reporter at the Texas Tribune.
In 2014, a year into her new position, she attended Metcalf Institute’s Climate Change and the News Seminar for Journalists in Washington, DC. “I knew a little about temperature rise in Texas, but I knew less about the impact of [climate change on] sea level rise,” explained Satija. “I learned that in some ways, sea level rise is the most obvious thing that is happening as a result of climate change. Sea level rise is unmistakable, you can’t argue with that.”
Satija left the seminar with a new understanding of science and a desire to see her editors benefit from this type of training, especially in Texas where, according to Satija, engaging the state’s political leaders on climate topics can be challenging. “Editors make a lot of calls about what stories are important to cover everyday, and I think it would be great to send one of ours to Metcalf,” said Satija. “It would be great if they could go for a couple of days and immerse themselves in what the science really says, what we know for sure.”
Satija has wanted do an in-depth piece on extreme weather and sea level rise since Super Storm Sandy, the aftermath of which she spent reporting in Connecticut. She got her wish in a ‘big Texas’ way when the Tribune partnered with ProPublica to publish “Hell or High Water” in 2016, a compelling multimedia project that explored Houston’s vulnerability to big storms.
The interactive series used model simulations to let readers experience what would happen if a strong hurricane pushed rising waters into Houston, home of the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex. The series was followed by a well-attended public presentation and panel discussion with policymakers and experts. “The events are a really important way to engage our audiences,” said Satija. “We have a responsibility to get people to pay attention and not just put out information.”
As an investigative reporter and a radio producer for the Tribune and Reveal, a podcast from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, Satija digs into a wide variety of topics ranging from climate change, water quality and extreme weather to education, transportation and affordable housing. She believes environment reporting has gone far beyond the niche beat it used to be, and now impacts every beat in the newsroom. “So many topics we cover intersect the environment in some way,” she said. “It’s really human interest reporting, it’s social justice reporting.”
Her five-part series “Undrinkable” revealed how more than 90,000 people living along the Texas/U.S. border still live without safe, clean water. “What I really loved about doing the “Undrinkable” story was talking about things that a lot of people should know about, but don’t, and raising that type of awareness,” explained Satija. Another series, “The Price of Admission,” explored huge disparities in public education and illustrated how students at two nearby high schools were “worlds apart” in terms of access to resources.
As for her future, Satija has begun to produce long-form journalism on the radio, which she describes as “living the dream.” She’s also a regular contributor to National Public Radio.