A group of Chicago youth journalism students recently traveled to the University of Notre Dame to learn how to find Asian carp without actually catching them.
The workshop was a collaboration of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and We the People Media’s Eco Youth Reporters program. The students met with David Poulson, the center’s associate director, and traveled to Notre Dame with their instructor, award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen.
The effort is funded by the McCormick Foundation.
The students learned about checking the water for the DNA of the invasive fish whose huge appetite can change entire ecosystems. At Notre Dame’s Linked Experimental Environmental Facility the youth met with scientist Chris Jerde. He explained the difference between DNA taken from fish and eDNA taken from the environment.
And he demonstrated how environmental DNA is obtained. Media reports incorrectly compare the process to the glamour of crime scene investigation television shows, he said.
“You think watching paint dry is boring, you should try filtering water,” he told the students.
Later, Heather Asiala, a program associate with Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative, which set up the meeting with Jerde, gave the students a tour of that program’s offices.
Poulson and Lydersen explained additional questions at the eDNA demonstration that journalists would likely ask to prepare for a story. Later they helped the students focus the carp story and brainstorm angles and leads for telling it. They discussed the use of simile and metaphor – noting how filtering the water for eDNA is similar to putting water through a coffee filter.
They also explained how to be on the look out for a new story even while they are reporting a different one. For instance, Jerde was a potentially interesting feature story because of his background as a mathematician and his research of bison at Yellowstone National Park before he got involved with carp DNA.
The students also examined and discussed creative ways of telling other environmental stories.
The visit included a walking tour of the Notre Dame campus during which they fortuitously got a look inside the Notre Dame football stadium and locker room.
The visit fit well with previous field trips that Lydersen had taken the students on. The group previously toured an invasive species exhibit at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, fished for invasive round gobies, hiked along the Chicago River and Sanitary Ship Canal and toured the Illinois River where they saw Asian carp jumping.
Here are some of the news stories students produced from these trips:
- Shedd aquarium showcases invasive species
- Chicagoans will fish, contamination or not
- Pilsen gets environmental justice
- Preserving history and ecology