ENVIRON 320 - Environmental Journalism: Reporting About Science, Policy, and Public Health
Section: 001
Term: WN 2010
Subject: Program in the Environment (ENVIRON)
Department: SNE Program in the Environment
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
Completion of First-Year Writing Requirement.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This course aims to give students an introduction to the world of mass media, with a strong emphasis on reporting and writing about the environment and public health. This class has consistently won high praise from students for providing personalized, hands-on training in improving writing skills. Students learn from two prize-winning journalists who have more than 40 years combined experience covering the environment and public health for media outlets such as The New York Times, Newsweek, The Detroit Free Press and National Public Radio. Each week, the course focuses on a different topic in the news related to the environment or public health, including alternative energy, the environmental future of the auto industry, energy efficiency, climate change, environmental justice, garbage, pandemics and cancer.

Students hear from a range of leading experts on the topic of the day, learning not only about the subject itself but also about the process of journalism. Guest speakers are chosen to represent many points of view. They range from corporate executives to environmental activists, scientists, government officials and journalists. Past speakers have included SNRE Dean Rosina Bierbaum; Donele Wilkins, Executive Director of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice; State Senator Liz Brater; Zoe Lipman of The National Wildlife Federation; Mike Johnston of the Michigan Manufacturers’ Association; Joe White, The Wall Street Journal’s Detroit Bureau chief; Lester Graham of The Environment Report, a public radio show; and 60 Minutes producer Alden Bourne, among many others. Along the way, instructors lecture and steer discussions about media ethics, interviewing skills, freedom-of-information laws, the Internet as a source of information, government databases and many other journalism-related topics.

In-class exercises include writing the first few paragraphs of a story about one of the guest speakers and selecting the best quotes from recorded student-to-student interviews. In-class critiques of student writing also point out the most successful writing techniques.

The course has two field trips that show first-hand how journalism is practiced. In recent years, they have been to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Lab in Ann Arbor and to the Carleton Farms landfill in Sumpter Township, (this is the controversial landfill that receives trash from Toronto). All class activities are designed to give students a broad understanding of how the mass media operates while also sharing tips on how students can participate in the mass media — either as full-time journalists or occasional dabblers in public discussions.

Course Requirements:

  • 20 percent in-class participation;
  • 20 percent 1,000-word profile of a person in the environmental/public health field;
  • 35 percent final assignment, a 2000-word magazine article on an environmental/public health issue; and
  • 5 percent short assignments including blogging about an environmental story, creating a list of story ideas, writing a letter to the editor and crafting a 200-word story on a local government issue.

    Multiple drafts are required for each writing assignment.

Intended Audience: Concentrators in any field of study are welcome, especially those who are interested in environmental and/or public health issues and seek to improve their writing and communication skills. The class is deliberately limited to 20 students to facilitate discussion among students, so class participation is essential.

Class Format: Seminar format once per week for 3 hours.

ENVIRON 320 - Environmental Journalism: Reporting About Science, Policy, and Public Health
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
W 9:00AM - 12:00PM
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