West Virginia University Reed College of Media’s “Stream Lab,” a collaborative reporting project focused on regional water quality issues, is preparing to launch six water sensors Monday, Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. Students will launch the sensors at strategic locations along the Monongahela River in Morgantown, West Virginia, near the Morgantown Industrial Park. The press and public are encouraged to attend.
The launch is a part of the College of Media’s experimental journalism class, in which undergraduate and graduate students work together with three College of Media faculty and two Innovators-in-Residence, who are professionals in the media industry.
Students will use the sensors to look at differences in water found above and below a new fracking site in Morgantown, which is located near the Monongahela River and Monongalia County’s water intake. They will measure changes in conductivity and temperature to determine if data correlations point to possible pollutant sources.
Sensors, which are contained in free-floating bottles, covered in mesh and roped to cinder blocks, will also measure the time of data collection and the GPS coordinates.
A NEW KIND OF SENSOR
Professional-grade sensors have existed for quite some time but tend to be expensive. Instead of using these, “Stream Lab” will take data using a cheap, open-source alternative, the Riffle (Remote Independent Friendly Field-Logger Electronics). Not only are the sensors inexpensive, but they also fit conveniently inside a plastic bottle. This means another person with a different enclosed design can easily use the sensor hardware.
“Simple to use, low-cost sensors like the Riffle make water data accessible to journalists in ways that have never been possible before,” said Associate Professor Dana Coester, who is one of the course instructors.
PUBLIC SCIENCE=COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Because everything about the sensors is open-source and affordable, “Stream Lab’s” sensor experiment has the potential to inform work by future groups.
“There is something about a DIY maker project that makes reporting and science a touchable, demystified act that is within hand’s reach,” said Coester. “That’s not only important for our students but our community members as well.”
“Stream Lab” participants will elicit resident involvement through questionnaires, photos and Tweets. Students also plan to place signs along the Mon River Rail-Trails near where the sensors are launched.
“Our hope for the project is to raise awareness about water quality issues in West Virginia,” said strategic communications senior Birdie Hawkins, who is a double major in recreation, parks and tourism resources. “We think community participation is key to achieving that goal.”
Instructors for the course include College of Media faculty Teaching Assistant Professor Emily Corio, Associate Professor John Temple, and Associate Professor Dana Coester, as well as Innovators-in-Residence John Keefe, senior editor for data news at public radio station WNYC in New York, and Dave Mistich, digital editor and coordinator for West Virginia Public Broadcasting,
The College’s Innovator-In-Residence program was expanded this year with the help of $200,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “Stream Lab” is financed through a $35,000 micro-grant from the Online News Association. The project is also administered with support from Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation.
CONTACT: Kimberly Walker, WVU Reed College of Media
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