Amid some tears today over the tragic death of my former colleague Mike Taugher, I found a couple of stories he wrote about California water worth sharing. Mike was the Albuquerque Journal’s environment beat reporter back in the 1990s, and a nicer colleague you couldn’t have found, a talent, a joy to work with, a mensch.
He’d moved on to California, where from his perch at the Contra Costa Times he’d become one of the most useful and productive reporters covering California water before he left the business last year to go to work for state government.
Here’s a great example of his work, bird-dogging the connections between billionaire “farm baron” Stewart Resnick and Sen. Dianne Feinstein:
Acting at the request of Beverly Hills billionaire and Kern County water baron Stewart Resnick, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is seeking a high-level scientific review of new endangered-species permits that farmers and others blame for water shortages.
It’s juicy stuff, an admirable example of a dogged journalist trying to hold power accountable on behalf of the people. It’s easy to understand why that sort of journalism matters, and it’s the kind of work upon which we often heap praise.
[W]hy should anyone care if a nondescript little fish goes the way of the dodo?
After all, Delta smelt do not make the A-Team of endangered species, the so-called charismatic megafauna — bald eagles, grizzly bears, otters, whooping cranes and the like — that people tend to want to protect, if only because they look magnificent in magazines and nice on neckties.
This is not the sort of flashy investigative work that wins plaudits (of which Mike had won many). This was explanatory journalism at the top of its craft, a deft piece of work helping us make sense of our world.
That Mike could do both things so well (and with a cheerful modesty that was a delight to be around) is why he was a journalist’s journalist.