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Making NewsHour Weekend: Getting stuck in a swamp, and other adventures

In part four of our series "Making NewsHour Weekend," producer Sam Weber and anchor Hari Sreenivasan look back on where their reporting took them in 2018, from the swamps of Florida to the ocean off Scotland’s coast. They also recall some of the “weird situations” that greeted them, and producer Connie Kargbo, along the way.

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  • ALISON STEWART:

    We've been bringing you some of our favorite stories of the past year, with the producers and correspondents who work both in front of and behind the camera.

    Hari Sreenivasan sat down recently with PBS NewsHour producer Sam Weber who, along with producer Connie Kargbo, spent a good amount of time on the road with Hari this year.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Sam Weber, you are part of a two-person team, Connie Kargbo, who managed to sneak out for the holidays…

  • SAM WEBER:

    It's true.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    … before we got here to this table. Living shorelines was an idea you guys came to me with that I had not even heard of. Actually, how did that story come about?

  • SAM WEBER:

    Well, the truth is, it wasn't even our idea. So this was an idea by one of our frequent collaborators at Climate Central, which is a non-advocacy, non-profit research and journalism organization that we've worked with a bunch in the past. So one of their reporters, John Upton, had this idea for looking at this really sort of unique way of dealing with the energy that comes from the water and dealing with, you know, what could potentially be a bigger issue as sea levels continue to rise.

    And the more that we dug into it, the truth is, it was a really interesting and frankly sort of counter-intuitive idea, that something that was not a hard wall, not a seawall, not putting up a giant concrete barrier. Something that was a little bit more, at least, natural-seeming put into the water could actually do a better job than something that was a lot firmer and in place.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Here in Pensacola, Florida, just like the rest of the Southeast, or much of the Eastern seaboard, coasts have to deal with large storms and hurricanes. But there's a growing body of research that suggests living shorelines, like this one, are more resilient through storms than hardened shorelines like seawalls.

  • DARRYL BOUDREAU:

    It looks today as good, if not better, than before the hurricane.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Darryl Boudreau is the watershed coordinator for The Nature Conservancy. He showed us a 30-acre living shoreline project in downtown Pensacola called Project GreenShores. The first part was completed in 2003, one year before Hurricane Ivan hammered the region.

  • DARRYL BOUDREAU:

    Hurricane Ivan was a Category 3 hurricane. It was basically a direct hit. It washed away the road on I-10, further up the bay, that's how powerful that storm was. But the road behind Project GreenShores was really not damaged.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The experience with Project GreenShores in Pensacola is not unique. In North Carolina, researchers documented how living shorelines like this one were barely damaged after Hurricane Irene in 2011. While about 100 yards away, this hardened shoreline had to be completely replaced.

    And then there's sea level rise. Climate change is expected to push seas in this region up between two and five feet over the next 80 years.

    We've got two different strategies to deal with sea level rise: got a solid wall and you've got this marsh. What's going to do better?

  • DARRYL BOUDREAU:

    I would say over time the marsh is going to do better. The seawall is sort of a fixed point. So it's a fixed height. It's a fixed location. With sea level rise, the water levels are going to increase. And the only way to adapt a hardened structure is to come back with a higher structure.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of my memories from that story is a stretch on a, basically, a party barge that…

  • SAM WEBER:

    Pontoon boat…

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Pontoon boat, that should just be on flat water, and we were on anything but.

  • SAM WEBER:

    It started out very calm. And as we traveled out and then of course as soon as we kind of got out into that Pensacola Bay, it was a little bumpy, a little bumpy, but you know, I think we really felt like it was important that if we were going to be able to get some footage of this major project in Pensacola, and we were out with one of the real architects of this project, it was nice to be able to see it from that perspective. But of course then we had to get back and, unbeknownst to us, I think, the wind had maybe picked up a little bit.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Just a little…

  • SAM WEBER:

    Just a little. You know in full disclosure, we might not be the most experienced sailors that were out on the Pensacola Bay that day, and things got a little bit choppy.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That is one example of one of the stories that we've done on climate here in the United States, and Connie, you and I also just went to Scotland recently to do a couple of follow-up pieces as well.

  • SAM WEBER:

    Yeah, I mean, I think as a program, it's been really interesting sort of covering some of these emerging energy technologies particularly when we think about what are some of those maybe more outside-the-box solutions for climate change. And we had done, some reporting over the years on ocean energy technologies, including wave energy. We had some colleagues do a piece on that. And actually a tidal energy project here in the United States. But this was actually an idea that didn't come from us but actually came from you. So I'd be sort of curious, what made you see this as a place to particularly go? And honestly as a technology to particularly focus on?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, look, I don't own shares in any of these particular companies. I love Scotland, but it's not the place that I want to go every week. I think it's just that there are things that are happening all over the planet where companies and countries are seizing opportunities to figure out how to change, to adapt to climate change, how to profit from climate change, how to get us off fossil fuels. This isn't sort of agenda-driven reporting; it's just more that all this stuff is happening whether we choose to at this moment in time invest there or not. Right? So whether this is happening in Scotland, or something else might be happening in Egypt, something else is happening in India. Lots of stuff is happening in China. Technologies are emerging. Countries are investing. Companies are investing. And this is going to be part of what's necessary if we're going to transition in any way away from fossil fuels. So I just find it kind of interesting to take a look at these other places.

  • SAM WEBER:

    And of course it also gave us plenty of opportunity to shoot a correspondent not only in various hardhats, different types of aquatic safety gear.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That's fun.

  • SAM WEBER:

    Including lifesaving, I don't know what you would even call it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I don't know what you would even call it, like a giant suit.

  • SAM WEBER:

    And then seeing, you know, everyone does their best to go literally down the hatch into a major tidal energy project somewhere off the coast.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I think it's cool. I think it's one of those things that you want to try to figure out how to communicate back to an audience. Like what is the type of stuff that I can tell you how something feels or how something smells that you can't get just from a nice picture. That we have great cameras, we can take great pictures but a correspondent, I think, is one of the ways that they can help tell a story is to help somebody at home understand what it's like to stand someplace or feel something or smell something. But you and Connie seemed to get me into weird situations. I've had my foot stuck in weird swamps with you guys.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This is pretty silty, sinks right in.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I've put things on my head.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This is very Amelia Earhart, old school.

  • SAM WEBER:

    I really think that if you're not going to take advantage of having the anchor of your show out in the field and be able to put an FMRI machine on his head and give him a test early in the morning to see how well he can count backward from 100 by sevens.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    16, nine, two, thank God, it's over.

  • SAM WEBER:

    And the idea that you'd be willing to do that and be willing to sort of put yourself in the shoes of somebody who was going through that test where researchers are, you know, we had some fun with it, but they're working on a very serious policy problem. And I really think it's a unique opportunity to be able to sort of really show the viewer what that process is like, and what those researchers are learning from it. And we're certainly really happy that you've been sort of game to do that with us over these past year, years.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Willing guinea pig. Sam Weber, thanks so much, and Connie Kargbo in absentia.

  • SAM WEBER:

    Absolutely.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Thanks so much.

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