You can hear the two reporters and researcher laboring up the mountain, their boots scrunching against loose gravel, their lungs sucking in the Sierra air at 11,500 feet.

KQED radio’s Sasha Khokha and Gretchen Weber are reporting from Yosemite, following Portland State University geographer Hassan Basagic as he chronicles the decline of Dana Glacier over the past century.

It’s a compelling radio piece, but it’s only part of a multi-media package from the San Francisco-based public broadcasting station.

KQED’s news magazine, “The California Report,” debuted the piece last November 10, directing listeners to a dedicated Web page that features an audio slideshow of the expedition, an example of the photo gallery that documents the receding Dana Glacier Basagic is studying, and two video clips from the trip. Blog posts from each reporter rounded out the package.

It was all part of KQED’s Climate Watch – believed to be the first news website dedicated exclusively to the how the globe’s changing climate is playing out in California.

Climate Watch, which KQED launched last June, is one of the latest multimedia journalism initiatives by the public broadcasting organization. Emulating KQED’s successful science program, called Quest, Climate Watch tells the California climate story – the science, the politics, and the policy of adapting to climate change while mitigating its effects – with the richness of multi-media.

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Craig Miller, Climate Watch Senior Editor
Photo by Martin Christian.

“The glaciers piece … was a really good early example of what we’re trying to do,” said Craig Miller, senior editor for Climate Watch.

The project was launched with a four-year grant of $1 million from the R. Gwin Follis Foundation, which is based in San Francisco. Follis, who died in 1995, was chief executive of Standard Oil of California between 1950 and 1966.

The project appears to be making the most of a modest budget, relying on reporters throughout KQED when they can carve out the time for stories that span the state.

Miller and Weber, the project’s associate producer, are the only KQED staffers who work exclusively on the project.

Miller, a television news veteran and documentary film maker in Northern California, said Climate Watch builds on Quest’s success.

“We kind of came in on Quest’s coat tails because they had started building a model on this already, and then we sort of took it off in our own direction and tried to build on that,” Miller said.

Radio listeners likely first hear about Climate Watch when a story airs on The California Report on most NPR affiliate stations statewide. Each story is branded as part of the Climate Watch series, and listeners are encouraged to go to the website for more in-depth journalism.

There they find a rich presentation anchored by a blog tracking climate change-related news of the day, from studies on wildfire in a warming climate to solar energy initiatives to how the ongoing California drought is affecting agriculture, one of the state’s top industries.

“Climate Watch Radio,” providing links to radio reports, is situated below the blog entries. One piece on February 20, for example, reported on the state’s grim outlook for California farmers depending on federal water allocations.

The site features numerous informative links.

“Online Resources” includes the state’s Climate Change Portal.

“Other Climate Coverage” features a variety of news portals, including Climate Connections, a joint project of NPR and National Geographic, and Nature Reports: Climate Change.

“Studies” provides links to a handful of key climate change reports, including the IPCC’s 2007 synthesis report and the Energy Department’s 2006 report on climate change impacts in California.

“How You Can Go Green” offers sites with tips on reducing individuals’ greenhouse gas footprint and otherwise becoming more environmentally conscious.

Advocacy is not part of Climate Watch’s mission, however, Miller said. “We don’t want to be an activist site, so we don’t emphasize the 50 ways to save the planet-kind-of-stuff …. We’re not pushing Priuses or anything,” he said.

Click on any blog posting, meanwhile, and you’ll be taken to a page that shows the full story and also a long list of categories where blog posts are archived – from agriculture and ecosystems to water and wildfire.

Climate Watch recently debuted its first “situation page” designed to give readers in-depth coverage of a major climate change topic. The first focuses on water issues, and Miller said he may launch another on wildfire later this year, just in time for fire season. A third situation page on climate change impacts on the ocean may follow.

With droughts, wildfires, rising seas, stressed agriculture, and aggressive state government actions to curb CO2 emissions, California is a prime place to report on the climate change story, Miller said.

“California is ground zero for climate change in the United States … and I think the impacts of climate change are going to vary quite a bit from place to place around the state too,” he said.

“It just seems like we have almost a perfect storm, this vortex of things that are very sensitive to global warming.”

The Bay area, meanwhile, is a terrific place to report on the climate story because so many research institutions are within a short drive of KQED’s studios. They include U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, Stanford University, a major United States Geological Survey office, and the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station.

“It’s great, because we have a pretty limited travel budget and I very rarely have to go very far to get these people,” Miller said.

Miller said he feels fortunate to tell California’s climate story through multimedia journalism, although he has a special fondness for radio.

“It’s my favorite medium,” he said. “By gathering some sounds and some voices and putting them together in an engaging way, the listener completes the picture.”

Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...