Walking along the river or basking in the New Mexico sun you can probably find Laura Paskus, a journalist who’s devoted decades of her life to reporting on the environment in New Mexico. Not only committed to exposing the scientific views of these topics, Paskus wants people to connect to their landscapes and communities.
Paskus flourishes outside and loves “learning about the world around us.” Currently working as a correspondent and producer for New Mexico PBS, Paskus explores a variety of environmental-related work on the air.
From studio interviews to field pieces, Paskus said the goal is to help people “understand things like climate change or community resilience.” Paskus noted a current special segment on New Mexico’s early wildfire season this year, “The Longest Season: An Our Land Wildfire Special,” which aired last week and will be rebroadcasted on May 5 and May 11.
“Being a local reporter covering the environment in communities, it's like an absolute articulation of love for a place. And the deeper I try to know New Mexico, the more I have these feelings of connection and compassion,” Paskus said.
The topics she’s reporting on aren’t abstract or purely conceptual because the environment impacts everyone, according to Jeff Proctor, close colleague and news editor at the Santa Fe Reporter.
“Things like climate change and sustainability and water and the American West aren’t conceptual or removed from human experience. They impact people, and Laura has always centered people in her reporting and her storytelling,” Proctor said.
John Fleck, writer-in-residence at the UTTON Center at UNM’s School of Law, has known Paskus for over 15 years. The two met when they were both working as environmental journalists and have had similar career interests over time. Fleck emphasized how devoted Paskus is to her work and the environment itself.
“Laura inhabits the world that she's writing about. So she's not just talking to people about the river; she's going out and walking alongside it, looking down at it and thinking about it in a very real way,” Fleck said.
Paskus serves as a board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists and published her book “At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate” through the University of New Mexico Press in 2020.
Fleck said Paskus has “always been very much a leader and a convener among the journalistic community.”
“I think she’s been a huge inspiration to not just a lot of young reporters but a lot of us who are the same age as Laura … She’s really just kind of hung in there and been there for people who are really serious about doing this for the right reasons,” Proctor said.
With a degree in anthropology, Paskus’ first career out of college was in archeology. For this, she moved to New Mexico. However, she disliked archeology’s “destructive nature” and moved to the field of journalism, staying in the New Mexican landscape she had fallen in love with.
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“I really think that there's something to be said for staying in one place and trying to understand one place and all of our different communities and different ecosystems … For me, it's been like an emotional commitment as well as professional commitment,” Paskus said.
Staying in one place takes courage when writing about controversial topics such as the environment, according to Proctor.
“It takes an awful lot to report for an extended period of time — in Laura’s case, a couple of decades; same with me — on the same issues and in roughly the same geographic areas, particularly when there’s a lot of doom and misery and destruction and human fuckery associated with what she writes about,” Proctor said.
Remaining in one location allows for trust to be built within communities, which is helpful in diversifying voices that are being heard, according to Proctor. This is especially true, he said, for communities that are heavily impacted by environmental issues, which tend to be minority communities.
“She’s built a huge amount of trust and a huge, massively diverse group of different segments of people, and she’s done that through making sure that their voices are heard in her storytelling,” Proctor said.
Paskus said there need to be more people of color and women in environmental journalism overall. The Society for Environmental Journalists is working hard on issues of diversity, according to Paskus. She also brought up the great work of Uproot Project, a new network for environmental journalists of color.
“There are really important reasons to, especially here in New Mexico, to make sure that coverage is inclusive of lots of different people and communities. Because in New Mexico, we’re a super diverse state and if you're only telling the stories of white people, not only are you missing out on the vast majority of the stories and issues, your content is also super boring. Diversity is what makes us stronger and more interesting,” Paskus said.
Paskus remembered starting her career 20 years ago when an older white man was the standard environmental journalist, and the standard for objectivity was very black and white with no room for bias or any kind of emotion. However, Paskus has always believed that idea isn’t candid.
“I'm not going to quote from people who aren't telling the truth, just to have balance in (a) story, and I'm not going to pretend like I don't have an opinion. I'll be totally honest about my opinion, and I'll be transparent, and I will still be fair in my reporting, but the people I'm wanting to be fair to is the audience and the readers and people who need to understand what's happening in the world,” Paskus said.
Paskus is someone not swayed by trying to make her sources or anyone else happy but rather by telling the truth, according to Proctor.
Paskus is one of the most proficient storytellers Proctor has ever come across, and he said she’s the “beating heart of our tiny little community” of people trying to get the truth out to the public.
Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716