Behind the scenes with Elizabeth Ouzts

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In our “behind the scenes” blog series, get to know our amazing team of dynamic journalists who make the Energy News Network possible. This month, we profile Elizabeth Ouzts who reports out of Raleigh, North Carolina and has been with the Energy News Network since 2016.

You report out of Raleigh, North Carolina, is that your home town?

I was born in South Carolina and raised in the rural Low Country, with its stately live oaks and lush azalea blooms. My family lived a short drive from beaches like Hunting Island, where I’d spend long summer days making sand castles, jumping the waves, and watching shrimp boats get bigger on the horizon. When I was 11 years old we moved to North Carolina’s foothills and I was glum at first because we were so far from the beach! But I quickly fell in love with the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains and the possibility of so little humidity.

Though I still partially claim the Palmetto State, I’ve now lived most of my life in the ‘Old North State.’ I’ve leaned into it, developing strong opinions on college basketball, barbeque, and alt-country. Living in Raleigh—a good little city in its own right—puts me in easy reach of all the mountains and beaches the Carolinas have to offer.

How did you decide to become a journalist?

I worked for nearly two decades as an environmental advocate and organizer, learning both how to analyze policy and communicate its implications to average folk. Then I saw newsrooms begin to shrink and lay off or reassign beat reporters, and the issues I cared about were getting less and less coverage. I became a journalist to help fill a growing void in local reporting.

I’ve loved traversing the state as a reporter, interviewing the real people who are impacted by energy policy—from the rooftop solar installer to the landowner fighting a pipeline on his/her property. I’ve learned that there are so many more stories that need telling than I realized.

What comes easiest to you as a freelance journalist?

Talking to strangers—be they politicians, farmers or high-tech innovators—comes naturally to me as well as asking question after question until I get to the bottom of something (usually having to do with ‘why’ or ‘how’). I gravitate to numbers as a way of understanding scope and impact, so it’s rare when a story of mine doesn’t involve a spreadsheet or a rudimentary chart in my notebook.

Why continue to do journalism in such a tough market?

Just as more and more outlets are cutting back on their energy and environment reporting, the energy sector faces unprecedented upheaval. That’s why the journalism we do is more important than ever.

The cries of ‘fake news’ are tough, but I feel strongly that we can and must power through, providing fair coverage without false equivalence and reporting facts without snark. That’s how we earn the trust of readers from across the political and geographic spectrum and begin to rebuild the public square.

What is one of the most challenging or interesting stories you have covered?

I’m fascinated by the intersection of agriculture and energy in North Carolina and the people who foster it. The Trump supporter who grows soybeans and leases his land for wind turbines, who has become the state’s leading ambassador for wind energy. The solar workers using sheep to maintain the vegetation beneath solar panels. The swine farmer capturing gas from noxious waste to produce renewable energy. I hope my reporting has reflected their passion, their optimism, and the formidable hurdles they face.

As for challenges: North Carolinians have a long history of fighting environmental injustice against long odds, and the voices of those doing battle have too often not been heard. Today, their fights are against multi-billion-dollar juggernauts: an interstate pipeline backed by one of the country’s largest utilities, the largest wood pellet exporter in the world. I strive to tell their stories from a diversity of perspectives and with the dignity they deserve.

Read Energy News Network stories by Elizabeth Ouzts.

The Energy News Network is published by Fresh Energy, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for clean energy policy. The Energy News Network is an editorially independent news and information site, and its contents should not be considered to reflect policy positions of Fresh Energy or our donors.