Every so often I receive a letter from a member complaining about the depressing news in our magazine. Some even decline to renew their memberships. (One Alabama reader in particular wrote that all our articles are "so gloomy." We decided to ask our readers in general what they think, and we received numerous responses. While some of you acknowledged that our subjects are at times depressing, you also observed that to conserve nature, we must learn more about the critical, and sometimes unpleasant, issues that Audubon covers. Some of your responses appear below, at the end of my editor's note; feel free to add yours in the Comments section.)
One of the pleasant aims of a magazine of our kind is to let readers immerse themselves in our striking photography, like the panda and seahorse that fairly jump off the pages of this issue’s Photo Gallery (“More Than Human”). Or they can escape in the elegant prose and beautiful photos in Earth Almanac, which brings the year’s current season to life. On top of that, there are fun activities, like learning how to draw birds (“Sketch Artist”).
Above all, we tend to focus on solutions rather than problems. For example, we could have simply bemoaned the plight of upland sandpipers braving a 4,000-mile journey to a place known as las pampas, a vast prairie in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay that’s fast being converted to industrial agriculture (“Raising the Steaks”). Instead Bruce Barcott’s story focuses on “a grand experiment,” whereby ranchers and conservationists throughout the pampas are creating bird-friendly, grass-fed beef through partnerships that extend as far north as Audubon Chicago Region. These ranchers, or gauchos—legendary for their knife-wielding bravery and their sense of honor—mean business. “Today their cattle control the grasses, doing the job the region’s original herbivores—now long gone—once performed,” Bruce writes. “They know and love their land.”
Likewise we could have despaired about the gauntlet of threats that piping plovers must run on their trips—sometimes upwards of 2,500 miles—to reach their winter habitat in the Bahamas (“The Plover Platoon”). As Don Stap notes, “Today piping plovers are the only shorebird in the United States listed as endangered or threatened in every state they frequent.” For three days a team of scientists, led by Audubon, camped out and trudged through mud to pinpoint the precise winter habitat, for the first time, of much of the plover population. This knowledge will shape critical conservation strategies.
When Ted Williams has gone up to Alaska’s Bristol Bay over the years to fish and hike, he has been utterly awed by how much it is “changeless and timeless, laced by pristine rivers that rush and dawdle through forests never logged and unscarred tundra that alternately blazes with wildflowers and glistens with snow” (“Mining Disaster”). To the horror of virtually everyone, both inside and outside the state, a foreign conglomerate is determined to strip-mine one of America’s wildest and most productive ecosystems. This project is so awful that the motliest of crews, from national jewelry retailers to right-wing lawmakers, has lined up to stop it.
So please stay with us and take the actions recommended in our Speak Up! boxes. On this and many other issues, we need you now more than ever.
Our our articles too gloomy? Here are just a few of the responses we received:
I read in the inbox a protest on the "depressing" articles published in the Audubon magazine. I disagree that your articles are too depressing overall. We need to know about the sad and pathetic things that people are doing to our animals and habitats so we can take action to turn those things around. How will we deal with the “depressing” activities that surround us if we don't know that they are there? We need to know about “the bad” in order to find solutions.
Yes, I want to know about the successes and good things that are happening, plus the interesting and beautiful animals and habitats, but although I may cry over the sadness, I need to know about it so I can take action and donate money to correct what is depressing.
Let's have a balance of joy and sadness. Keep the magazine as is. Please continue my subscription so I remain informed. It's the intelligent thing to do.—Dr. Rosemary Beck, Lakewood, Colorado
When Ted Williams runs out of outrageous deeds to alert us to in his Incite articles, then perhaps the magazine will be justified in publishing only uplifting stories.—Paul Grosso, Maple Grove, MN
Was surprised by an Alabama resident’s comments published in the November-December Inbox. Your magazine is not gloomy. It is informative. In the past, big business has had a field day trashing our environment because the general public was not informed and did not speak out. Keep up the good work!—M. Lorenz, Connecticut
I have been involved in environmental issues since the 1970s. There was a time when people were all about gloom, leading me to step away from anything environmental, feeling as if I couldn't make a difference. In recent years, Audubon magazine has made a great attempt to showcase solutions. An example is the piping plover article (which I love) and your columns that include natural history and also what local people are doing to solve environmental problems. I applaud these! They are a joy to read and an inspiration for the sorts of things we all could be doing.
However, it is sadly true that the environment has been under siege for decades. Ted Williams is an amazing researcher. I don't always like reading his articles either, but the work that he is doing is making information known that most of us would never find out about on our own. I am a researcher too. I know how slow and painstaking information gathering is, and so perhaps I can appreciate the breadth and depth of his articles. I admire his hard work, the clarity of his writing, and the hundreds of hours involved in each article. Thank you, Ted, for your persistence on behalf of nature.—Louise Conn Fleming, Ph.D. (Professor of Education; Chairperson, Department of Foundations, Inquiry, and Community Education; Director, Center for Civic Life; Ashland University)
I agree that some articles I read in Audubon and other conservation publications I read are depressing. However, I am 80 years old, a realist, and I strongly disagree with the ostriches, whom I assume must be younger than I, who believe that “everything's coming up like roses.” They need to extract their heads from the sand.
Keep telling like it is, and continue to publish Ted Williams' articles. He's one of the best.—Robert H. Mount
I must agree that your magazine is pretty gloomy. I receive several birding magazines, and yours is always the last one I read. Sometimes, the articles are just so depressing that I skim through the beautiful photos and skip the articles altogether. I know that the issues you highlight are important, even if they are depressing, but I think it wouldn't hurt to put in articles that are more uplifting and enjoyable. Just my two cents.—Patty
I just have to reply to this topic. I have been a member for over 20 years, and to tell the truth, about five years ago I called you guys and told you I did not want your magazine any more as it was too depressing. It seemed like every article was either about “man” ruining or killing flora, fauna, and parts of our world.
I understand that you have to let us know what is happening, and where our contributions are going, and what good you are doing, but I hated seeing gruesome pictures of dead or dying animals.
I have re-joined Audubon in the last two years and am getting your magazine again, and I must admit, it is not as bad as it used to be. Thank you for that. I see that you are trying.
I am an avid birder and love seeing beautiful pictures of birds and hearing about conserving places instead of all the ruin that is happening around the world. I think, unfortunately, we all know about that.—Patricia Shoupe, Pine Mountain Club, CA
Just about every article written has some doom and gloom in it. I no longer enjoy reading your magazine because it is so depressing. Lighten up.—Don Burns
Please add me to the list of people who think the magazine has become too gloomy. I find some articles so depressing I cannot read them. What ever happened to your gardening for wildlife column? I miss that. That was something almost everyone could do.—Janene Lindholm, Pflugerville, TX
I totally agree and I seldom read the articles in the magazine. I look at the photos and scan for an educational piece. I receive the magazine because I am a member but I wouldn't seek it out. Probably most folks who have joined Audubon are “members of the choir.”—Lois Shelgren
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