Graham Sustainability Institute

Environmental Journalism: Reporting about Science, Policy, and Public Health


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 and public health, such as urban sprawl, energy efficiency, climate change, environmental justice, sustainable development, garbage, the Great Lakes 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; James Clift of The Michigan Environmental Council; Mike Johnston of the Michigan Manufacturers’ Association; Neal Boudette, The Wall Street Journal’s Detroit Bureau chief; Keith Naughton, Newsweek’s Detroit Bureau Chief at the time; Rebecca Williams, producer of Michigan's Radio's Environment Report; 60 Minutes producer Alden Bourne and Sarah Mayberry, health producer for WDIV, among many others. Along the way, instructors lecture and steer discussions about media ethics, interviewing skills, freedom-of-information laws, government databases, the journalistic uses of social media and many other media-related topics. In-class exercises are featured as well. 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.

Literature, Science, & Arts » Program in the Environment
Winter 2018
Fall 2017
Winter 2017
Fall 2016
Winter 2016
Fall 2015
Winter 2015
Fall 2018