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Knight Center director speaks in Germany

Environmental journalists around the world face physical, legal, emotional and economic perils for doing their work. Meanwhile, more than 25 years after the USSR collapsed, the Soviet legacy of environmental degradation still plagues the 15 countries that emerged from its dismantled empire.

Eric Freedman with agroforestry workshop team members at the “me Convention” in Frankfurt

Those were the broad stories that Knight Center director Eric Freedman told during two presentations at the recent “me Convention” in Frankfurt, Germany. The convention featured a wide variety of international speakers on technology, education, futuristic visions, exploration, diversity, entrepreneurship, story-telling, science fiction and societal changes.

In “At Distant Ends of the Soviet Empire: Environmental Challenges Today,” Freedman focused on major ecological problems in three parts of the former Soviet Union – overfishing in the Baltic Sea, poaching and illegal logging in the Republic of Georgia and the near-death of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. The presentation drew on his teaching, professional trainings and research as a Fulbright Scholar in Uzbekistan, Lithuania and the Republic of Georgia.

Those problems are representative of wide-ranging environmental legacies of the 70 years of the Soviet regime, including nuclear contamination, toxic wastes from industrial facilities, soil salinity, deforestation, habitat destruction, oil and gas drilling, mining and overdevelopment. Policies, practices and mindsets of that era remain huge barriers to environmental sustainability, and most of the 15 new countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR lacked the financial means, political will, public support and technical expertise to stem, let alone reverse, decades of the spoliation of natural resources, destruction of habitats and crumbling infrastructure.

For Freedman’s second presentation, he used the experiences of four journalists to illustrate the dangers environmental journalists confront around the world. Rodney Sieh was imprisoned and fined for reporting on corruption in a public health project in Liberia. Bartholomaeus Grill was detained and threatened with death for reporting on rhino poaching in Mozambique. Miles Howe was arrested for reporting on First Nations protests against oil and gas exploration in Canada. Abeer Saady was physically attacked for reporting on toxic dumping into the Nile River in Egypt.

Some of their colleagues have been killed for their work. Those who survived arrest, assault, threats, self-exile, lawsuits and harassment have suffered physical, emotional and financial ramifications. Some have left journalism as a result, although others discovered that adversity strengthened their sense of mission.

During the me Convention, Freedman participated in other sessions, including a workshop on how to use “design thinking” to develop agroforestry projects that could promote sustainability and food security by replacing tree monoculture and overdependence on irrigation and chemicals. In that session led by Felipe Villela, the founder of reNature, teams of participants sketched out ideas that could integrate the growing of food crops, timber and biomass in a variety of countries.

In another workshop session, Ari Popper, the founder of SciFutures, demonstrated how businesses can use science fiction storytelling to envision and help plan their own futures.


“Sh*t” film wins an Emmy Award

Troy Hale Director/Executive Producer, Zoe Kissel Producer/Editor, and Geri Alumit Zeldes Producer.

The Documentary film “Sh*t Saves the World” won an Emmy award June 15th for it’s film trailer. Director Troy Hale, Producer/Editor Zoe Kissel, and Producer Geri Alumit Zeldes attended the award ceremony in Detroit.  It was the first time in memory that the word “sh*t” was used on the Emmy stage.  The attending audience got a real kick out of it.

The Knight Center for environmental Journalism supplied a starter grant for this project to get off the ground.

You can view the award winning trailer here:

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Outdoor writers award scholarships to MSU J-School students

Two Knight Center for Environmental Journalism students have won 2019 Toyota Let’s Go Places Scholarships from the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.

Angela Mulka and Andrew Blok recently each received a $1,200 scholarship and a two-year, non-voting membership in the organization. The group is comprised of outdoor writers, hunters, fishers, hikers and recreational boaters.

Angela Mulka

Both Michigan State University students are reporters for the Knight Center’s environmental news service, Great Lakes Echo.

Mulka has a summer communications internship with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. She plans to apply the scholarship to college expenses as she enters her senior year pursuing a degree in journalism.

Andrew Blok

Blok, a masters student in journalism specializing in the environment, has a summer internship with Environmental Health News. He plans to use the award to buy microphones and a camera to diversify into audio and visual reporting.

The Conversation with Knight Center director

Litter in the streets by Nutsa Chubinidze

Knight Center director Eric Freedman’s latest article for The Conversation examines the troubled state of environmental journalism in the Republic of Georgia, a strategically important ex-Soviet country in the Caucasus.

The article is based on his research last fall as a Fulbright Scholar teaching journalism at Caucasus University.

As part of their course, his journalism students photographed some of the environmental problems in Tbilisi, the capital. Continue reading