Behind the Seen
When Katie Campbell graduated from St. Kate’s in 2002 with a degree in English and journalism, she took a job as a small-town Minnesota newspaper reporter. Today, she has a much bigger platform for storytelling, covering some of the Pacific Northwest’s most important environmental issues.
In fact, Campbell won a Northwest Regional Emmy last year for a 30-minute documentary — her first — that chronicled the second-largest environmental restoration effort in U.S. history.
“Naturally, I was thrilled,” she says. “I was nominated among people for whom I have immense respect, people who have been producing television for decades. It’s validation that I’m on the right path. I’m doing work I believe in.”
Raised on a flower farm in southern Minnesota, Campbell began her career as a government reporter at the Owatonna People’s Press, where her interest in environmental journalism was piqued. She went on to the Vero Beach–Indian River Newsweekly in Florida and later worked as a writer, photographer and editor for Oregon Quarterly, Eugene Magazine and CASCADE, an alumni magazine for the University of Oregon.
She also served as an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Oregon after completing a master’s degree in literary nonfiction journalism there in 2008.
Several years later, Campbell realized her dream. She is now part of Earth Fix, a public media partnership of Pacific Northwest television stations focused on telling stories about environmental issues. In her position, based in Seattle, she covers environmental justice, sustainability and urban environmental issues.
In 2011 and 2012, Campbell directed, produced and wrote a documentary entitled “Undamming the Elwha” that aired on KCTS-9, the public television station in Seattle. The documentary tells the story of the Elwha River — whose headwaters are in the Olympic Mountains — from the day it was dammed more than a century ago to the day the river was set free beginning in September 2011.
Campbell was interested in the story before she even landed her current job. But she didn’t realize the extent of the Elwha issue until she got started — and one story quickly became three. “The timing was perfect,” she explains. “We were able to document the entire first year of the dam being taken down.”
One of the most engaging elements of Campbell’s award-winning documentary is the story of Adeline Smith, a 94-year-old member of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. Smith’s tribe has depended on salmon for centuries, and she watched helplessly as the river dam — designed to provide inexpensive energy to Port Angeles, Washington, and surrounding areas — devastated the salmon population.
“The heart and soul of the story was Adeline,” Campbell explains. “Hers was an untold part of the story, and it showed the hidden cost of the situation.”
Energy-related environmental stories are the focus of Campbell’s high-profile projects. In 2013, she completed a documentary called “Coal” which describes plans to ship coal mined in Wyoming via rail through Washington, where it would be exported to Asian markets.
Like the Elwha story, this one turns on competing interests: Increasing Washington’s coal exports would provide a much-needed economic stimulus; yet coal is known as a dirty fossil fuel and a major contributor to global warming.
“The coal export story really challenged my perspective,” Campbell says. “Covering the environment is endlessly complex. It involves politics, science, culture, history and law. The environment impacts everyone regardless of their political persuasion or background.”
Voices and views
This desire to tell all sides of a story began while Campbell was editor-in-chief of St. Catherine’s student newspaper, The Wheel. “The mission of social justice is so immersed in everything at St. Kate’s. It shaped how I look at stories as a journalist, and really showed me the importance of allowing all the voices to be heard.
“There’s always someone who has a unique perspective or sees things from a side of the story that hasn’t been told before. I’m always trying to find that person,” she says.
Campbell looks for issues where she believes the public is either undereducated or misinformed. Next up: A piece about wildlife poaching in the resource-rich Pacific Northwest and the tracking methods detectives are using to combat the crime. One example is the geoduck, a massive clam that flourishes in Washington’s Puget Sound and can sell for up to $100 each at restaurants in Hong Kong and Beijing.
More than a decade has passed since her days as a student journalist at The Wheel. Yet Campbell still stands on the ethical foundation that the University provided. “I left St. Kate’s with a sense of wanting to participate and engage in my community. I wanted to do meaningful work that has impact,” she says, “and St. Kate’s prepared me for that.”
"The environment impacts everyone regardless of their political persuasion or background."