Covering the Louisiana coast

At KU, Sara Sneath knew she wanted to protect the planet and now works as an environmental reporter  

Summer 2019 Edition


Sara Sneath holds an alligator in a marsh in Jesuit Bend, Louisiana. (Photo by Ted Jackson)

Sara Sneath holds an alligator in a marsh in Jesuit Bend, Louisiana. (Photo by Ted Jackson)

Sara Sneath (j’13) wanted to help the planet. So, most days, she rode her bike to work. In fact, she is a huge cyclist and participates in many bike runs and outdoor activities. But that isn’t the only way she’s preserving the environment. Sneath was also a reporter for The Times-Picayune Louisiana Coastal Reporting Team and NOLA.com.

After Sneath took an environmental sociology class at the University of Kansas, she became interested in all the different stories that were related to the environment. So, when Sneath graduated with double majors in journalism and sociology, she left KU hoping to get into environmental work and help make the world better.

In her job at NOLA.com, the day-to-day tasks were different and required Sneath to be versatile. Her work included on-field research, reporting, feature writing, educational packages as well as attending government meetings and acting as a watchdog.

However, the best part of her job was going into the smaller Louisiana communities and talking to people about how they’re affected by environmental issues. Sneath enjoyed seeing how other people live and would sometimes spend the whole day with them.

“There are communities that can’t speak for themselves and therefore, it’s important for us as journalists to talk to them and reach out and see how they’re impacted by the decisions people who have power make,” she said.

Because the Louisiana coast is so diverse, she has had the opportunity to celebrate at a Cambodian New Year festival, attend a potluck with Native Americans and meet people from historic African American communities. Sneath has also spoken with individuals who trap animals for a living or go out on their boats into the Gulf of Mexico for four or five days to fish.

“We find ourselves in these echo chambers where the people that we surround ourselves with are very similar to us,” Sneath said.“It’s really cool to be able to meet all these different people from all walks of life.”

Aside from working at the community level, one major project that Sneath worked on was a series called “Saving the Southern Wild,” which looked at three Louisiana species — the American alligator, brown pelican and Louisiana black bear — that were all once in danger. Since then, they have recovered under the Endangered Species Act. Sneath chose those three animals for various reasons, but believed they were all iconic symbols of Louisiana.

With the current legislative and administrative changes that could drastically modify the Endangered Species Act, Sneath wanted to see how those alterations would affect species in Louisiana and how the act previously played a role in the species’ survival.

In 2017, The Times-Picayune and The New York Times also established a partnership with the purpose to “explore the causes and potentially catastrophic effects of coastal erosion and sea level rise along the Louisiana coast,” according to NOLA.com.

“That became a focus for our team, and we reported on it for almost a year,” Sneath said.

More recently, Sneath has started working as an environmental reporter for The New Orleans Advocate, which absorbed The Times-Picayune.

She hopes to learn more skills and diversify the kind of stories she’d like to tell. Aside from writing, Sneath believes that some stories are best told in audio, video or photo form. She is also looking to do another series.

She plans on continuing her environmental work and raising awareness in any way that she can even if it’s as simple as riding her bike. But Sneath’s biggest advice to everyone as consumers is to be thinking about the environment when it comes to voting or calling state representatives.

“The most important thing to do is to hold those people who are in positions of power accountable because a lot of these issues can only truly be changed or addressed by our government,” Sneath said.

– Angel Tran is a May 2019 graduate from Wichita, Kansas

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