It was a late night for a crowd of about 40 people in the back room of Olive Ridley’s in downtown Plattsburgh Wednesday night, as two environmental advocates guest-starred on the newest podcast episode of “Late Night for the Planet,” hosted by Plattsburgh State Associate Professor Curt Gervich and his students.
“Late Night for the Planet” is a special feature on an environmental podcast called “Pod for the Planet,” created by PSU senior environmental studies major Charles Olsen last year. While “Pod for the Planet” follows a normal conversational tone between Olsen and his co-host, “Late Night for the Planet” is the only live talk-show on the podcast with extra student assistance and audience participation.
“[The podcast] has grown each time, and we’re really excited about that,” Gervich said to the audience before the event.
The fifth episode of Late Night for the Planet featured two environmental advocates, both with strong ties to the North Country. Yessenia Funes, an alumna of PSU’s environmental studies and journalism departments, is now Brooklyn-based environmental journalist for Earther.com. Dan Reed, who has worked closely with Gervich and Olsen on other environmental projects in the past, is the program director for Planet Forward, an environmental storytelling platform for undergraduate students housed in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. PSU is a contributing partner on the website, and Olsen is one of 17 college students from across the country who posts content for Planet Forward as a staff correspondent.
Wednesday night’s show was run by seven of Gervich’s students. Four co-hosts, students Rahmel Pacheco, Samantha Beck, Emma Stewart and Deonte Osborne, took turns asking questions to Funes and Reed.
The two discussed with the students what it was like to be working in the field of environmental media, especially during a time of “environmental crisis.”
“I knew very quickly when I decided that I would become a journalist that I wanted to do something justice-related,” Funes said. “I wanted my writing to affect change, be powerful and meaningingful. But eventually, I realized the severity of the climate crisis, and I decided that would be the focus of my writing.”
Reed said a big part of the reason that people know anything about the environmental crisis is because of good journalism in the media.
“It’s part of our responsibility to do the digging, and in my case, empower and create a structure that helps the next generation of journalists and young storytellers, do the digging to expose this s–t. That’s the only way we can hold companies and governments accountable.”
Funes agreed, adding that as members of the media, it’s their job to expose the crisis as much as possible.
“We need to talk about the environmental crisis from a more holistic, systemic lense, looking at the bigger contributors to climate change and stop shaming people for the individual choice they make and alienating them along the way, so that [more] actually want to join in changing the world,” Funes said.
In addition to the conversation, two different games were played during the show, one called “Beat the Press,” where the guests had to craft headlines based on photos and excerpts from real stories, and another called “Yessenia Says What?” where the audience had to guess which of two quotes was from one of Funes’ articles, usually made obvious due to her frequent use of humor, wit and sometimes profanity in her work.
In addition to the podcast event, both Funes and Reed were given opportunities to speak in front of PSU classrooms during their stay in Plattsburgh. Reed gave two storytelling workshops Wednesday and Thursday, and Funes visited PSU professor Lauren Eastwood’s social justice class Thursday morning.
As a former editor for Cardinal Points, Funes said participating in the podcast felt like a good way to give back to her alma-mater.
“It feels like a nice contribution of my time and expertise to come here and meet students,” Funes said. “It’s pleasant and nostalgic.”
The hour-and-fifteen-minute event concluded with words of wisdom and funny awards that thanked Funes and Reed for being a part of their conversation to better the world we live in.
“For me, environmental journalism is about bringing people into the conversation,” Funes said. “I feel like when people’s lives are at stake, it should be important to everybody.”