12 People to Watch in 2009
Our 12 People to Watch in 2009
(page 11 of 11)
Photograph by Gloria Dawson
By: John Ferro
Dan Shapley didn’t start out wanting to become one of the most respected environmental journalists in the Hudson Valley.
“I wanted to be a poet,” he says of his college days. “I didn’t have a practical idea in my head about what I would do.”
Since then, Shapley has spent his career reporting on practical solutions to complex environmental problems. The 32-year-old resident of Port Ewen is the top editor of The Daily Green, an award-winning environmental Web site based in Manhattan and published by Hearst Digital Media, a unit of Hearst Magazines. Founded on Earth Day 2007, the site aims to foster environmentally sound living practices through news, features, tips, and awards.
“The term ‘green’ can mean anything and nothing,” Shapley says. “For the Web site, it means a lifestyle that is concerned about health, not only in the way everybody thinks about it — exercise and eating well — but also in terms of the quality of the food you are eating and how it was grown, how processed it is or isn’t. I think food is a really big, really growing part of the whole idea.”
The Daily Green won a “Best New Site” award from minonline.com, a media industry Web site. In April, it hosted its first “Heart of Green Awards,” honoring people who were taking the “green” message to a mainstream audience. Among the honorees were actress Alicia Silverstone, a vegan and longtime animal rights activist; and Roger Doiron, founding director of the nonprofit group Kitchen Gardeners International. Doiron led a campaign that encouraged the Obamas to plant a garden at the White House.
Before The Daily Green, Shapley was the environmental editor at the Poughkeepsie Journal. His relentless reporting drew attention to the Hopewell Precision contamination site in the Town of East Fishkill. Wells near the site were found to have elevated levels of trichloroethylene, a chemical solvent. It was declared a federal Superfund site in 2005.
“He was an awesome and terrific reporter when he was at the Poughkeepsie Journal and helped them create a really strong environmental focus,” said Ned Sullivan, president of the environmental group Scenic Hudson and author of the “Backyard Matters” blog for The Daily Green. “I think he has been catapulted into a national and international media market with The Daily Green. I think he is having a much broader impact, and that is good for everybody — and good for the environment.”
Shapley’s appreciation for the environment goes back to his Dutchess County childhood. “Growing up in Salt Point, there were a lot of woods,” he remembers. “I was right on the Wappinger Creek. Most of my playtime was spent trespassing in other people’s woods.”
After graduating from Arlington High School, Shapley attended Hartwick College in Oneonta, where he began studying biology. He blames beakers and Bunsen burners for his switch to writing. “My freshman year, I was taking genetics, which is a pretty tough course,” he said. “I loved learning about it, and was probably one of the only people who really enjoyed reading through that textbook. But I was no good at lab work — I just didn’t get it.”
Still, that little bit of science has served him well in his journalism career, he said. Shapley spent two years editing the college paper. He studied English literature, and discovered a love of poetry. He began his professional career at the Taconic Newspapers group before moving to the Journal.
When Hearst asked him to be one of the founding staffers at The Daily Green, he struggled with the decision. “You know, people would call up [the Journal newsroom] if they had a problem related to what I wrote about,” he said. People in the community knew his name, and looked to him for help. “I felt like I was abandoning them,” he admits.
That feeling is one of the reasons he joined the Town of Esopus Environmental Advisory Board last year. He has contributed to the board’s study of street light fixtures and the town’s recently expired contract with the operator of its transfer station.
“Dan is tremendous,” fellow board member David Murray said. “I think he is brilliant. He knows how to look for information and track it down, and has that reporter’s doggedness of getting things. He has FOILED [requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law] certain documents that have to do with the contractor who runs the station.”
Shapley’s board work is one example of what he hopes will be an increasing level of participation in environmental issues in the Hudson Valley. “A goal I have is to come back and be working in the Hudson Valley full-time on Hudson Valley issues,” he said. “That is really where I am most satisfied. I’ve learned so much and I’ve gotten to know so many good people who are working on things that I care about. I want to be involved. I’m not sure what form that will take right now, but that is an end goal.”
Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”: