Michigan State J-School Grad Students
Focus on Covering Climate Change

“A huge issue with potentially profound impacts on society and the planet.”

It’s part of the course description for this semester’s Journalism 808 three-credit class at the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

“It’s no longer just a science or environmental story,” says the syllabus for the course being taught by Knight Journalism Chair Jim Detjen, an award-winning former newspaper reporter who was the founding president of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ).

Climate change “is affecting business, government, religion, health, agriculture, sports, the arts, popular culture – and much more.”

Enrolled for the first-time offering are 12 students – 11 undergraduates and one Honors College undergraduate. Nine of the students are from the U.S., the other three from China, India, and Malaysia. Eight are journalism majors and one is majoring in health communications.

Questions the syllabus says will be addressed during the semester:

  • How do journalists find out about and report the “truth” about an issue, which is complex, filled with uncertainty and disputed?
  • How do you maintain reader, viewer and listener interest in an issue being played out over a long period of time?
  • How to you report and write about an issue with global implications during an era when the news media is reducing its coverage of international issues?
  • How do you cover a complex issue when the media terrain is rapidly shifting from traditional print and broadcasting models to new Internet-based technology, such as cell phones?
  • When, if ever, should a journalist be an advocate for a point of view or a policy?

Along with a planned field trip and lectures by a number of university and outside journalism experts, the syllabus calls for use of New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2006 paperback Field Notes from a Catastrophe, based on her award-winning three-part New Yorker series “The Climate of Man.” It recommends additional readings by Australian Tim Flannery, evolutionary biologist and author Jared Diamond, Columbia University’s Jeffrey B. Sachs, and Lester B. Brown, founder and former president of the Worldwatch Institute and now head of the Earth Policy Institute.

Information on the course and a copy of the syllabus are available from Professor Detjen at detjen@msu.edu.

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