The power of pamphlets


In late 2021, a Bristoll, Va. based reporter reached out to Southerly about a landfill in her community that was emitting air pollution making people sick: headaches, nausea, nose bleeds, brain fog. We decided to do a story online investigating it, and then hosted a listening session with community members after it published. Multiple people told us many of their neighbors—particularly Black residents, elderly, and low-income residents living close to the landfill—don’t have internet access or aren’t on social media. Some of the grassroots leaders said they spend a lot of time just trying to explain what’s happening at the landfill to people who haven’t heard much about it yet, but are feeling the effects of the air pollution.

This is a common problem: A lot of reporting about environmental crises still fails to reach the people who are living them and need that information most. So we worked with a group of community members—diverse in age, race, and location, including faith leaders, citizens’ group leaders, and students—to create a simple brochure to get critical information about the landfill to those who still need it. We used information from our story and some additional reporting to make this guide that includes key facts about what’s happening at the landfill, how it’s affecting residents, and where they can get help or connect with others.

A few months later, an environmental justice activist in Sampson Co., NC reached out to me. She wanted a brochure for her rural community—mostly Black elders—who had questions about the cumulative impacts of hog farming, a local landfill, and other sources of pollution. We worked together to create a brochure using the same template, which described the contaminants they might be concerned about, the industries in the area, and how to document or report pollution.

Now, we’re planning to do more offline outreach in both of these communities, and reprinting the brochures as they need to be updated. We want to use this as a template for other communities facing similar communication and outreach challenges, in order to ensure residents are part of the process of creating resources they need.