Brian Clark Howard is a professional blogger, award-winning journalist, social media consultant, and photographer living in New York City. He was most recently the web editor of The Daily Green, a top environmental website that gets more than 1 million unique visitors a month. Brian is a true multimedia professional who has not only written for websites viewed by millions but has also co-written four books and published magazine articles in Men's Health, Connecticut Magazine and the National Geographic's The Green Guide. He's also frequent guest on radio and TV shows.
I've gotten to know Brian through our mutual work as green bloggers and have always been a fan of his writing. He takes his job seriously and is passionate about doing great work. I had the chance to see him in action last year while on a 10-day press trip in Costa Rica and came away even more impressed than I had been going in. The trip was good but marred at times by logistical snafus. No matter what twist or turn were thrown at us (THERMOMANIA!!!!!!), Brian always kept upbeat and focused on finding the story.
Brian left The Daily Green in February and is mulling over his next move. His writing, photographs and detailed biography can be found at his site at BrianClarkHoward.com.
Here are seven questions for Brian Howard.
MNN: Does the world need saving?
Brian Howard: That's a great question. Many people are quick to point out that it does not, at least on a geological or cosmological scale. However, I think that's a bit too far-sighted. In human-scale measures of time, biodiversity is irreplaceable, because we can't wait a few hundred million years. In that sense, the world very much needs saving, now. I don't buy the cynical argument that humans are part of nature and therefore everything we do is "natural." Sure, that may be true on a philosophical sense, but what good is philosophy if you have no clean water, no breathable air, no genetic diversity to adapt to disease and change?
Blue-and-yellow macaw, Brazil © Brian Clark Howard
What's the difference between green and greener?
My friend Lori Bongiorno of Yahoo Green wrote a whole book about that: "Green, Greener, Greenest." I think it's really all about perspective; one person's greener is another's meh. I find that green noobs are often turned off by what they see as self-righteous or insidery debates over greeness, and so when talking to them it's best to try to keep things as simple as possible. Once people make a few green changes, it's usually addictive, and they want to do more. Then they start to be naturally curious about what might be greener or greenest in each situation, and I think that's good.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
Recently I've been pretty excited by One Block Off the Grid. I like their formula of marketing and Web savvy, community involvement and education, with a healthy dose of direct consumer incentive. They organize homeowners into collectives to get big discounts on solar equipment, and they help people navigate the complex process of getting approval, incentives and so on, and they keep people motivated.
Who do you think is the most important green of the last century?
I'd have to go with Rachel Carson, since she was really instrumental in crystallizing the modern movement behind her. Carson's science-based, look-at-the-data approach made it hard for skeptics to dismiss her conclusions, which were that if we didn't clean up our act, we were going to essentially ruin the environment within a few years. I think this message resonate with so many at the time because things had gotten really bad, and most people were probably aware of the problems already, at least on some level. Today, many environmental problems are less visible (global warming, fracking), so it's easier for skeptics to jump in and confuse public thinking, but Carson's life and work really served as a model for a movement.
Piranha in the Pantanal © Brian Clark Howard
Media moves fast. How are things different now compared to when you graduated from college?
When I started college I had never browsed on the open Internet, though I had sent e-mails, played games and been on Prodigy.com for a few years. I remember when I first heard about Yahoo!, which suddenly made it possible to find interesting things with a few key strokes. It was pretty mind-opening. When I graduated, the Web seemed like an exciting, dynamic place, but it was much more limited in terms of what you can do. It did remind me of the sci-fi story I read as a kid, however, in which everyone exists solely in little white rooms, equipped only with a monitor. Everything you do was through the monitor, or came to you through a little chute (or left that way). You had to get special permission to leave your room, but there wasn't much point anyway, because all there was was an endless sea of little rooms.
What advice would you give to someone graduating from a journalism program today?
Stay positive and try to stay nimble. If you can keep your expenses down, there is almost no end to where you can go or what you can do. For the first time in its history, the Society of Environmental Journalists is made up of a majority of freelancers, as opposed to staffers, and I think this trend is accelerating. Most likely, you will have to freelance at least part of the time. There are still a fair number of entry-level jobs at community newspapers to cover crime or school board meetings, but more and more of these are part-time, without benefits. They're still a good way to cut your teeth doing real shoe-leather reporting. There is still no substitute for daily assignments to teach you the craft, although increasingly journalists have to do it all: come up with the idea, report, edit, write the headline, optimize for search, post online, support through social media, and maybe submit to prize committees. Oh yeah, your editor also wants a photo/audio slideshow and original video, edited and set to royalty-free music. It's due in an hour.
When I started journalism school in 2006, my professors didn't have us write headlines on anything we turned in. I asked why not, and the answer was "the copy desk will write them for you." Well, I've never worked anywhere that had a copy desk, in 10 years of the profession, and I've always had to at least suggest my own headlines, and usually write them for others. Gone are the days of rigid specialization via task, although it is still often a good idea to specialize via subject area. However, don't assume you will be stuck in a beat forever; most journos cover several beats in their career, but it does make it easier to get assignments.
What's your favorite place on Earth?
That's a fun one. Some of my favorite moments have been at Yellowstone, Lake Tahoe, Great Sand Dunes National Monument, the Green Mountains of Vermont and at the beach.
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