More than 500 journalists and environmental experts from across the globe have gathered in Lubbock for the 22nd Annual Society of Environmental Journalists Conference.

Journalists working for a variety of media platforms, including print, radio and broadcasting will represent institutions such as National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, BBC, NPR, ProPublica, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Medicine.

The conference began Wednesday with an all-day workshop, “The Craft and Commerce of Successful Freelancing,” and ends Sunday. Events are primarily hosted at the Overton Hotel.

Ron Kendall, a professor in the Department of Environmental Toxicology, said he first learned of the Society for Environmental Journalists Conference when it was hosted at his alma mater, Virginia Tech.

He said he became interested in having the conference take place at Texas Tech, which has been a process in the making for years.

“I received materials about how exciting it was to have the world press come to the university,” he said. “I did a little research and places they had their meetings were like Stanford and University of Wisconsin at Madison — these premier universities. They decided they would have their meeting in 2012 here in Lubbock, so we basically have the world press coming here this week.”

The theme for this year’s conference is “Big Land, Big Sky, Big Issues,” Kendall said, and will cover topics unique to Lubbock and the South Plains region, including the production of cotton, the livestock industry, wind energy, the production of oil and gas and water use in an arid environment.

Wednesday evening, producer Jamie Redford shared his film “Watershed,” a movie about a climate-changed west that is narrated and executive produced by his father, Robert Redford.

Graduate students from Tech also had the chance to present research posters about a variety of issues Wednesday.

Today participants will have a chance to tour landmark sites, including Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, the American Wind Power Center in Lubbock and Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday there will be lectures, workshops and breakout sessions, which include topics such as climate change, environmental journalism practices, new media, health and conserving natural resources.

Friday there is a pre-screening of “The Dust Bowl,” a documentary by Ken Burns and co-produced by Dayton Duncan, who will discuss the film.

Kelly Kaufhold, an assistant professor in the College of Media and Communication said the conference provides great exposure for Lubbock and the surrounding areas.

“It’s a huge conference, and we’re really excited because it’s the first time they’ve come to town,” he said. “One of the reasons they wanted to come here was part of this conference is always field trips to surrounding areas, and they’re going to some places that are really only accessible in a very unique way from West Texas.

“They’re covering a lot of issues that are huge in the environment right now, and they’re all within reach of Lubbock. Because of the issues that are in the news this year, this is a uniquely good location.”

As the university works to achieve tier-one status, Kendall said it is important for Tech to represent itself well to other parts of the nation and the world.

“This is a neat opportunity when we have so many research projects and ideas going on here,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to communicate who we are and what we do and how we can help you as potential sponsors, like industry and so on, solve environmental issues, and that’s where the future is.

“From our perspective of being an emerging national research university, this couldn’t have come at a better time, as we are gaining momentum in research and development.”

Jay Letto, the conference director, said it isn’t the job of journalists to care about the environment, necessarily, but to ensure the topic is thoroughly covered in the media.

“It’s more like a beat. It’s just what we write about,” he said. “For the Society of Environmental Journalists, what’s important for us is to try and elevate the environment beat in mainstream media. For our group we feel environmental issues are important to people and that’s kind of our main thing, is to try to elevate the quality and visibility of environmental reporting.”

The conference is a good opportunity for Lubbock to advertise itself to journalists from across the U.S., Europe and Latin America, Letto said.

“It’s really great to be here in Lubbock,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for Lubbock to showcase all you’ve got going here to a national and global audience.”

This event is a unique way to ensure Tech is recognized by others for its environmental work and research, Kendall said.

“There’s no telling who’s walking across this campus that can tell the Texas Tech story to other parts of the world,” he said.

For a full list of events and information, visit http://www.sej.org/initiatives/sej-annual-conferences/AC2012-main.

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