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.
Here’s an entirely different sort of piece, this about the endangered Delta smelt:
[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.
Thanks for this, John. I was an avid reader of Taugher before he moved to the CA Department of Fish and Game (Wildlife), when I had a chance to work with him on a Delta story for High Country News. I found a journalist no more willing to shave the issues while working in a press office than he was when in a newsroom. His bona fides and integrity were such that his presence at the DFG made the department seem more credible. It’s an incomprehensible shock for his family and staggering loss for California newspapers and water providers as Delta-fications intensify. I can think of no one who could take his place. I wonder if he understood his impact and reach and the depth of respect that fellow reporters had for him? He was strangely modest for someone who dominated his field.
Those are great examples of Mike’s excellent writing and his grasp of the issues and the politics behind the issues. He didn’t rely on using spin put out in propaganda press releases to write his stories — he actually researched and talked to people, trying to learn more. This always gave greater context and layers to the issues and players he was writing about. And then he would turn it into a kind of conversation with the reader — like you were at a cocktail party discussing an important issue of the day. I could always count on the fact that he had his finger on the pulse of the what was really going on and was out investigating all the angles of an issue. He was so easy to talk to about anything and everything, and such a nice guy — he will be missed.