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, which may include alternative energy, the environmental future of the auto industry, energy efficiency, climate change, environmental justice, garbage, pandemics or 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 former 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.
- active participation in class discussions
- in-class writing exercises
- critiques of classmates' papers
- a 1,000-word profile of a person in the environmental/public health field
- a 2000-word magazine article on an environmental/public health issue
- multiple drafts of major writing assignments
- a brief description of a new way for gathering or delivering information about the environment and public health, such as an app or website
- analysis of the structure of environmental and health stories
- covering a local government meeting where environmental or health issues are discussed
- practice "pitching" story ideas and business ideas
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.
The course has two or three field trips that show first-hand how journalism is practiced. 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 promote civic engagement- either as full-time journalists or as occasional dabblers in public discussions.