Knight Center faculty tell tales of environmental crime and research at SEJ conference

Knight Center director Eric Freedman and senior associate director Dave Poulson will be at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference this week hosted by the University of Oklahoma.
The conference, which attracts hundreds of environmental journalists, environmental communicators, scientists and government experts, focuses on the theme of “Weather, Water Energy: News in Every Neighborhood.” It includes workshops on graphics and video training, panel discussions and field tours on such topics as Superfund cleanups, food research, the impact of drought and climate change, drilling and fracking, water rights and relationships between Native American tribes and land and water issues.

Freedman will lead a panel called Covering Environmental Crimes. It will explore the role of federal and state environmental, public land management and natural resources law enforcement agencies and the criminal courts as sources for news tips, story ideas, documents and people to interview. The criminal justice system plays a key role in the enforcement of environmental laws and the implementation of public policy. Courts are venues for confrontation in newsworthy conflicts — some with serious human impacts. Such conflicts are as diverse as toxic dumping, poaching, illegal asbestos removal, trafficking in endangered species and filing fraudulent reports with environmental regulators.
Poulson, who is a member of the SEJ board of directors, organized a session called Helping Environmental Scientists Engage the Public Directly. Journalism educators can meet an increasing demand from scientists to directly engage the public by helping them develop journalistic skills and values. Journalism educators have long offered such training to the science community. But a new demand — and opportunity — comes directly from scientists and other researchers. It is fueled by young researchers who want their science to change policy, funders who demand broader impacts of the science they support and the disruption that has led to fewer journalists on specialty beats and in general.
Poulson is also leading two workshops for University of Oklahoma faculty and staff. One is to help scientists develop skills to tell the story of their research. The other is to help university communicators tell their institution’s research stories.