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Making NewsHour Weekend: Filming in challenging locations, tracking climate change

This year, NewsHour Weekend producers Sam Weber and Connie Kargbo’s reporting took them from a slave rebellion reenactment in Louisiana to a moon landing 50th anniversary celebration in Houston to covering climate change’s effects on mangroves in Florida. They recently sat down with Hari Sreenivasan to discuss their best stories from 2019 and the challenges of filming while on the road.

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  • Karina Mitchell:

    As 2019 draws to an end, we're taking a look back at some of the stories we've brought you this year, with the producers and reporters behind them.

    The team of Sam Weber and Connie Kargbo spend a good deal of time on the road with the host of this broadcast, Hari Sreenivasan.

    They sat down recently to talk about this past year and what's in store for 2020.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Connie Kargbo, Sam Weber, thanks for joining us. Happy 2019. Let's start with one of the stories that you guys produced with me, for me out in the mangroves of Florida. First of all, how did that story idea come about in the first place?

  • Sam Weber:

    Well, it was actually a collaboration with several other media outlets, including the nonprofit, non-advocacy group, Climate Central.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Uh, huh.

  • Sam Weber:

    So it was a story that they brought to us, but was a really sort of fascinating story of a plant that was making inroads further and further north because there was less and less freezes and less and less severe cold.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And we got to go out and watch the scientists work….

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Absolutely. And I think that was probably quite the most interesting part of the story was being able to follow as the scientists conducted some of the investigations they were doing.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Each of these chambers is a glimpse into the future. By shielding it from the elements, the temperature inside is a couple of degrees centigrade warmer. By doing this, scientists can study what happens to the salt marsh and the mangrove in here at these higher temperatures versus what's outside.

  • Samantha Chapman, Villanova University:

    What we see at least in our first six months of data is that the mangroves seem to be growing faster in the warming chambers.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The WETFEET Project is a multi-year initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation. Researchers pull water samples to measure data, including salinity.

  • Samantha Chapman:

    It's kind of like getting blood from a stone though, right?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    They use bluetooth-connected sensors to track environmental conditions like temperature and humidity; both inside and outside of the chambers. Is this mangrove going to replace that marsh?

  • Samantha Chapman:

    Likely, yes. Unless there's a deep freeze, it's going to overtop the marsh and as it does so it's going to shade out the marshes under it and it will just take over.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And this is somewhat dirty work.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Absolutely!

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Not the stuff that you learn in the abstract in a classroom, this is really get your hands dirty, get your feet dirty.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Absolutely. You're walking through mud, you're walking in some swamps. But I think what was interesting was really following Hari, to a degree, and catching some of the moments where the mud seemed to have kind of taken hold of you.

  • HARI IN THE FIELD:

    "Oh, lost it, lost it, lost it…!"

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right. I had that special relationship with my boot, which kept… Yeah, the foot would come out and the boot would stay. Yeah, that wasn't very fun.

    You were also one of the first teams that we went out in the field and took the Newshour Weekend program out to Houston. It was around a big anniversary that the whole country, the whole world was celebrating.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Yes. It was the 50th anniversary of the first moonwalk. And for someone who obviously, not obviously, did not live did not live through that period. It was really interesting getting to see it from the perspective of those who were alive and are now currently actually working at NASA.

  • Sam Weber:

    And it was really hard to not get wrapped up in that getting to see a control room that they had literally restored down to packs of cigarettes, coffee cups. It just really brought home when a monumental feat. This was using the technology they had 50 years ago.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right, because we have more in our smartphone now than I think what the Apollo 11 of the lander actually had computing power-wise, right? It's stunning to think that even in that control room, there were some of the projected images in the back, they were literally hand drawings of where this place should be. And we just take for granted on GPS like, oh, well, shouldn't we be able to track X and Y? Well, not then.

  • Sam Weber:

    And then being able sort of catch up with a flight director today and the really incredibly tight timeline that they've been charged with to complete the next set of manned missions into space.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    It was also really interesting getting to see some of the lunar samples. You know, we spoke with a curator there who's been kind of minding these and being able to send these samples to researchers across the country and to see these up close, to know that there are two thousand samples behind some of these screens that we were looking at. It was pretty impressive.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And the way that they actually store these, how they transport these.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Absolutely.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I mean, you're at the first thing like. These are just rocks. Oh wait, they are rocks from the moon!

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Exactly. And what was also interesting was knowing that there was even more that we haven't seen, that they were just at the cusp of opening new vaults that would give us more information as to what information we don't even have about the moon yet. So that was great.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, one of the stories that you did is an interesting one about a slave rebellion that most people don't know about. What was this one about?

  • Connie Kargbo:

    This was 1811 Slave Rebellion. It took place in Louisiana. And essentially, it was the culmination of many, many enslaved people coming together, planning to take over the plantations that they were part of, march in New Orleans, take over that city and form a new country free of slavery. So it was really interesting speaking with the artist who was able to kind of trace this 30 mile journey to New Orleans, which obviously they never made that.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    So it was a it was a really great experience running along as these reenactors, 200 plus of them, walking from what was LaPlace now in Louisiana, and actually making it to Congo Square in New Orleans.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And how difficult was it to get just that, even the reenactment?

  • Connie Kargbo:

    It was it was really difficult because obviously in certain parts they were a little further away from you. So shooting some of those scenes really hard. But what was really fascinating was how detailed they got with some of the costumes. You know, this was 19th century clothes that they were wearing, machetes, muskets. And they really got into the details of what it would have been like to wear these clothes at that time period. And they brought it to life here at 2019,

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    OK. And one of the stories that you folks are working on that will air soon is about wind energy. But what's new about wind energy? What's interesting about it puts it in the news today?

  • Sam Weber:

    It's an energy that maybe we might take for granted a little bit and maybe especially for us here in the Northeast where it's maybe not as prevalent, but it's a renewable source of power that in the last decade, decade plus has really become a powerhouse. And for the first time this year, in 2019 moving into 2020 it will overtake hydro power as the biggest renewable energy source in the United States It's really an industry that's gotten a huge boost from federal tax credits are actually starting to phase out

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    OK

  • Sam Weber:

    After 2020. So it's sort of taking a look at that industry, and some of the challenges that I think both energy producers and policymakers know that they're going to face as we start thinking about how are we going to make more of a transition to a carbon free future, particularly when it comes to power generation.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So where do you go? What did you see?

  • Connie Kargbo:

    So we were in Texas, the central part of Texas. And it's really interesting because that's part of the country that also has a lot of oil fields. So it was interesting contrasting this dirtier energy with one that's supposed to be the future for the United States.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yeah.

  • Sam Weber:

    And it's also… one of the bigger innovations in this industry is that the turbines have gotten so much more efficient. And part of that also means bigger.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yes.

  • Sam Weber:

    So being on the ground at a project that sort of just getting going. So there was basically five turbines up when we were there. Out of one hundred and ninety one that will be built in online in 2020. And getting to see, for instance, these blades getting trucked in past us. I mean it's really jaw dropping to see that the amount of infrastructure and the amount of logistical work that goes into even just physically getting these things to the place, let alone, you know, for instance, taking a tower segment off of an oversized truck and carefully placing on the ground to be staged to then be lifted up.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Sam Weber, Connie Kargbo Thank you both.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Thank you.

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