Student environmental reporting wins SPJ prize

Andrew Blok and Kurt Williams

Two master’s students at Michigan State University, Kurt Williams and Andrew Blok, won first place in the Online Reporting category at the recent Region 4 meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists in Cleveland.

Williams and Blok received a Mark of Excellence award for their reporting titled “Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes: Investigating efforts to protect and preserve water quality.” The award recognizes the finest in collegiate journalism in Region 4, which encompasses Michigan, Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Their project now moves on to the national Society of Professional Journalists competition.

Parts of the package were published by Great Lakes Echo and Capital News Service. The full package can be found at

Williams and Blok worked on the project in their Multimedia Reporting class taught by Professor Serena Miller. Their reporting investigated the complexity of the problem of algal blooms, using recent bloom events in Lake Erie to understand the potential for expansion of blooms into the upper Great Lakes, the impacts of blooms on communities in the region and efforts to prevent them.

They interviewed scientists at the Great Lakes Environmental Research laboratory in Ann Arbor, Bowling Green State University in Ohio and MSU for the story. The scientists’ expertise provided information necessary to understand the problem, how the problem is being monitored in the Great Lakes Basin and possible future solutions to curtail algal blooms.

Soil scientists, farmers and volunteer water quality monitors provided insight into ongoing efforts to stop the flow of nutrients that fuel the blooms.

To capture the impact of algal blooms on residents in the Great Lakes Basin, particularly those who rely on the lakes for their water, the water treatment plant manager in Monroe, Michigan, was interviewed about the city’s efforts to preserve its water quality and how his and other communities can benefit from scientific research.

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