Category Archives: Classes

Although the lab course numbers remain the same, topics change semester to semester. Check MSU’s schedule of courses for the latest information. The three-credit courses can be taken more than once.
Completion requirements for the graduate 800 level courses are greater than those of the undergraduate 400 level courses.
JRN 472/872 Lab Environmental Reporting
This course gives students hands on experience producing environmental news stories. Class-produced stories meeting professional standards are published on the center’s award-winning Great Lakes Echo non-profit news service. Students have analyzed the ecological footprint of Spartan Stadium and the pollution inputs into the Red Cedar River. They have waded in rivers to examine macroinvertebrates, analyzed and mapped data and explored creative reader engagement techniques such as this one modeled after Jaywalking on the Tonight Show or this one that gives clues to polluted sites. Others include the Great Lakes Smackdown and the popular carp bombs. The course offers a great way to pick up clips and experience. Story types vary by student interest and skill but can encompass text, audio, photography, video and creative reader engagement strategies. Topics vary semester to semester and students can take the course more than once and for variable credit.
In the fall of 2013 the course is called News eye in the clear sky. Students will shoot video from an aerial drone while exploring the exciting opportunities and thorny ethical and legal challenges of new ways of perceiving the environment with satellite imagery, drones and other remote sensing techniques. And they will look at some of the newsworthy aspects of the other civilian applications of such technology.
JRN 473/873 Seminar in environmental journalism
The course focuses on news media reporting of environmental, scientific and health issues. The seminar is mostly guided by the following question: How can journalists deal with scientific uncertainty and the inherent complexities of environmental and health issues? The discussions cover topics such as: journalists’ role conceptions, journalistic norms, environmental discourses in popular culture, use of expert sources, reporters’ beliefs and perceptions, organizational constraints, and the gap between journalistic and scientific cultures, among others. We discuss historical and current issues where science has played a central role in their media reporting. These issues include, among others: energy, smoking, climate change, ozone layer hole, GMOs, hydraulic fracturing, population growth, and natural disasters.
Elsewhere within the School of Journalism
Students are encouraged to explore environmental reporting in the context of other journalism classes such as feature writing, multi-media production, broadcast, Capital News Service and public affairs classes. Instructors of such classes often collaborate with the Knight Center.
Elsewhere at MSU
Both graduate and undergraduate students interested in environmental reporting are encouraged to broaden their knowledge of environmental science and policy by exploring related coursework at MSU. This is required of undergraduates seeking an environmental concentration and of masters students pursuing the environmental option.
Among the Knight Center affiliated programs at MSU are the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment for undergraduates and the university’s Environmental Science and Policy Program for graduate students.


Canada is on-the-road classroom for MSU environmental journalism students

Knight Center for Environmental Journalism students interview Eugene Bourgeois and Marti McFadzean, leaders of two Kincardine, Ontario, organizations opposing the Deep Geological Repository, a nuclear waste storage facility proposed at the site of Bruce Power. They met in the cabin Bourgeois built from reclaimed timber. Image: David Poulson

By David Poulson

I had tried for weeks to arrange a meeting of my environmental journalism students and First Nations officials during a field reporting trip to Kincardine, Ontario.

I came close. But now things were falling apart. Just before we hit the road last semester, tribal officials phoned to say they decided not to meet with us to talk about a controversial radioactive waste disposal plan on Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula. They wanted to assess their community’s reaction to the plan before speaking about it with outsiders.

Our three-day Canadian roadtrip was part of a Knight Center environmental journalism class on transboundary issues. The plan was to directly learn of some of the environmental challenges that the U.S. shares with Canada.  At the same time, the half-dozen students would gather ideas and sources for classroom assignments and for our center’s news service which carries stories relevant to the eight states and two provinces bordering the Great Lakes.

Continue reading

Of Fortresses and Fortitude

Story and Photos By Eric Freedman

Narikala Fortress

Georgia is an ancient mountainous country settled thousands of years ago. Some of the most dramatic evidence of its past are what’s left of the fortresses, castles and stone walls build to protect the country from invading armies of Romans, Russians, Persians, Arabs, Turks and other peoples seeking to conquer Georgia – and who often succeeded.

Remains Narikala Fortress


Above the Old Town section of Tbilisi you can visit the remains of Narikala Fortress. The original fort overlooking the Kura River was built about 1,700 years ago, restored in the 1500s and ruined in an 1827 earthquake. Much of the fortress has crumbled, but some walls still stand. The fortress is illuminated at night and glows with yellowish-brown colors – I can see it from my 8th-floor apartment window a few miles away.

The picture above shows part of the remains of Narikala Fortress as seen from the National Botanic Garden of Georgia.

Watchtower Ananuri

Ananuri was once a castle and seat of the feudal dukes of Aragvi. Their watchtower and church complex stands tall partly intact, partly in ruins. What was it like to be on guard duty in places like these isolated outposts, lonely outposts, on bitterly cold nights with the security of a kingdom riding on your ability to spot and defeat relentless enemies?

Ananuri castle

It’s not only forts that stand high for protection in Georgia. So do Orthodox churches and monasteries that provided physical as well as spiritual protection. One is the 6th-7th century Jvari Church looming above the country’s one-time capital of Mtskheta.


Gergeti Trinity Church

It was on this site that, we are taught, Saint Nino – who is credited with converting Georgia to Christianity – erected a cross overlooking shrines to the pagan gods.

Similarly, the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church looks tiny from the town of Stepanstminda far below, while Stepanstminda and the Georgian Military Highway heading north to Russia look tiny from the church grounds far above.

Sentry spot Gergeti Trinity Church

Worshippers lit candles during my visit but it’s easy to envision sentries on duty here amidst snow-capped mountains and fierce winter winds.

Even older are the ancient remains of the cave city of Uplistsikhe, about an hour’s drive from Tbilisi. Here you can wander through centuries-old ruins. Life must have been harsh here – no running water, no bathrooms, no internet, no fast food, no malls.

Looking down on the town from Gergeti Trinity Church

This site once hosted temples dedicated to the sun goddess and served as a trading center for merchants and caravans traveling along the Silk Road that connected Europe with Central Asia and China. The paths are steep and sometimes slippery, but at the top are scenic views of the valley below.

Caves of Uplistskihe




And the view from there:

View from caves

Knight Center director lectures about economic costs of pollution

Many people think of science as precise, as exact. After all, those scientists are using computers and satellites and expensive laboratories to answer important questions so they must always get the correct answers, right? There’s also a lot of math in science that makes their answers even more precise, right?

Not true. There are many, many uncertainties in science. When you add in the human factor and economics, the answers become even more uncertain.

Eric Freedman

So when Knight Center director Eric Freedman was invited to talk to a journalism class at the University of Georgia in Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) about the economic costs of pollution, especially health and social costs, he turned first to a comprehensive October 2017 report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. Investigative environmental journalist Tsira    Gvasalia teaches the environmental health reporting course.

While it’s impossible to put a precise price tag on the problem, we can summarize the study by saying that outdoor and indoor air pollution, water and soil contamination, and chemical pollutants cause millions of people to die early each year at a cost of trillions of dollars. Continue reading

Visiting Chinese journalists discuss storytelling

Xiaofei Dang from China International Publishing Group presents her study on Chinese social media at the VIPP Academic Forum.

Xiaofei Dang from China International Publishing Group presents her study on Chinese social media at the VIPP Academic Forum.

Six Chinese journalists visiting MSU gave a presentation called “Traditional Media vs. Social Media: Impacts on Storytelling” as part of the Visiting International Professional Program 2017 Academic Forum.

They also premiered a 10-minute video about their fall semester professional development experience at MSU.

Program participant Zhang Xiaotong moderated the presentation. Knight Center director Eric Freedman served as discussant.

The other presenters and their topics were:

  • Dang Xiaofei: Social Media in China
  • Zhong Lei: How China Utilizes Social Media on the International Stage
  • Zhai Huixia: Importance of Traditional Media
  • Zhang Tingting: Importance of Photos in Online News
  • Hu Yajuan: Observations on U.S. Traditional Media

The participants work for Beijing-based China International Publishing Group, a publisher of books, magazines and websites “with a mission to introduce China to foreign countries.” During their stay in East Lansing, they sat in on some J-School classes, took VIPP courses and visited the Lansing State Journal and WKAR.