Miami marks many ‘firsts’ for SEJ conference

The Society of Environmental Journalists’ 21st annual conference will be the site of many “firsts,” thanks in part to its location in Miami.

“Geographic features of each locale help determine the agenda of the conference,” said conference director Jay Letto. “We are on the ocean for the first time in a long time, so there is a coastal ocean marine focus. Since we are in an urban area for the first time in a few years and Miami is such an international city, we have a very heavy focus on Latin American and urban issues.”

Letto, one of the co-founders of the SEJ, has been with the organization since it was established in 1990 with the goal of providing education and support to environmental journalists. He is one of only two people who have attended every single conference, initially as a volunteer member for the first two gatherings. He became SEJ’s annual conference director in 1993.

“He brings a host of experiences and materials – always a straight shooter,” said conference co-chairman Jeff Burnside.

Each year, the SEJ holds a conference that focuses on different environmental topics in a different part of the country. Letto is responsible for creating a program that touches on a range of topics relating to news reporting on environmental issues.

The Miami conference will focus on topics such as over-fishing, sea-level rise, acidification, urban issues and maritime debate, Letto said.

Events unique to Miami include “Sustainable Chefs: Reducing the Footprint of Your Dinner Plate” at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 and the “Night to Remember: SEJ’s Annual Awards Ceremony, an Eco-Fashion Show and After-Parties” following the dinner at 8 p.m.

“Let’s put it this way, we’re not going to do that in Lubbock,” Letto said of the conference scheduled in Lubbock, Texas in 2012.

To effectively plan the conference, Letto said he received input from member volunteers and the board conference chair. The conference hosts many speakers who will aid in bringing many environmental topics to light for which journalists can report.

Letto, an editorial board member of the Stanford University publication “Ecofables/Ecoscience” and an advisory board member of the Science & Technology News Network, was able to bring in renowned speakers such as the Cousteau family, who are environmental activists.

The most challenging part of planning the conference, Letto said, was deciding what topics to cover.

“The environmental beat is a very large beat. It involves a lot of science, business and political coverage, culture and society, and on and on,” he said.

After receiving feedback from past attendees of SEJ annual conferences, Letto and the society have implemented changes in the format of the program each year. For example, instead of limiting the event to a weekend, the conference now runs from Wednesday to Saturday.

The conference is expecting to draw in a record-breaking number of attendees and generate significant public interest.

Said Letto: “We are hoping for more than 1,000 attendees. I am hoping our members have a great time in Miami and that we don’t lose anybody.”




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