Andrew Revkin puts us to shame. The New York Times environmental journalist has posted 440 times in the past year to his groundbreaking blog Dot Earth, while reporting full time for the print paper, working on books, doing speaking engagements and raising two sons. And his posts are always filled with quality journalistic analysis, often reported -- something that can't be said for the vast majority of blogs.
So TDG expresses our heartfelt congratulations to the always gracious, never competitive Andrew Revkin, winner of the 2008 John Chancellor Award.
The $25,000 Chancellor Award is selected each year by a panel of print and broadcast journalists who recognize a reporter who may not be widely known by the public, but who does outstanding, important work. This year Jane Mayer of the New Yorker was also recognized for her fearless, dogged reporting on torture and the War on Terror, including her recent book The Dark Side.
Last night I took the subway up to my (and Andy's!) alma mater, the recently renovated Columbia University School of Journalism, to see my esteemed colleague answer current student's questions. Looking smart in a bowtie and jacket, the youthful Revkin told the audience that "blogging is horrible in a way, because it envelops every sphere of your life that you don't push back on. Balancing all that is a challenge." We know what you mean.
Andy also talked about the "brave new world of journalism," beset with layoffs, and also an era in which the homepage is rapidly replacing the frontpage. He said journalists are just beginning to take advantage of interactive tools, and he noted that the best part of blogging is a more direct connection to one's audience.
A moderator asked Revkin how he feels about his beat -- the environment, and especially climate change -- becoming much more central to the national debate in the past few years. He responded humbly, and added, "We've never had to move away from a cheap and useful energy source in our history before as a species... But today climate change is actually a subset of the biggest issue we face: how we make the transition to a stabilized relationship to the Earth and each other.
Revkin's blog is all about how the world's billions can live more sustainably and more equitably, from better access to clean water to preventing deforestation and dealing with the impacts of more severe storms. He points out that the world now has an unprecedented 1 billion teenagers, with vast implications to population growth.
Revkin said he is glad that global warming has finally begun to receive widespread acceptance among the public and the media, long after that happened among climate scientists, but he points out that many challenges remain. He said a major hurdle is that people don't understand what science is. "Science is a challenge process, an attack process, a journey," he explained. "It is not facts that sit on a shelf. Understanding will change over time, but that doesn't mean at any given point that scientists don't know anything. This is not the same kind of debate that occurs over issues like whether or not we should allow abortion, for example."
"One problem [with reporting on climate change] is that the issues that really matter the most to people, such as hurricanes, sea level rise and regional weather patterns, are really hard to predict with any degree of confidence," Revkin said. "But as journalists we have to be honest and try to explain the complexities. Otherwise, how do you explain it if, for example, the Arctic swings the other way for a while?"
Scheduled to appear at the Chancellor award ceremony in support of Revkin was Dr. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a major voice on public action on global warming. Hansen has long been a critic of the Bush administration's stonewalling of global warming, and its censoring of scientific information (something Revkin covered extensively, including working from memos he obtained from government workers). Andy first started reporting on Hansen's work back in the late 80s, when the young journalist was producing some of the best coverage on the emerging issue of climate change.
Andy also had many nuggets of advice to offer budding Columbia journalists, including suggestions on talking to scientists (if they resist, remind them that many are funded by taxpayers!); always focus on telling the story well; start with a beat that's not getting a lot of attention (Andy cut his teeth on an award-winning investigation of herbicides); explain the science behind everyday things; and learn to work in interactive media.
Andy studied biology at Brown, and got his masters in journalism at Columbia. He spent summers doing marine fisheries research in Rhode Island, and got his first job as a copyeditor at Science Digest. He has worked for Discover, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and elsewhere. He is the author of several environmental books, including one for the whole family: The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils from the Top of the World.
In fact, last night was quite an inspiring night for environmental journalism. All of us in this relatively small space should take it as a remember to push ourselves to do the best, most balanced, and most informed work possible. And there's a lot of work to do.
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