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UC Berkeley Earth Journalism Students Cover Whales, COVID-19 and Fire

Prescribed burn in Contra Costa

For the eighth year in a row, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) collaborated with the UC Berkeley Graduate of School of Journalism (JSchool) to support a semester-long Earth Journalism course for 14+ graduate students on how to cover environment and climate issues.

The course is taught annually starting in January by EJN Executive Director James Fahn and veteran environmental journalist Mark Schapiro. But the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant this year’s cohort had to forego some of the highlights of past classes.

For example, pandemic limitations prevented the students from traveling for the grant-funded reporting trips – an annual feature of the class. But, thanks to a ground-breaking program initiated by the JSchool’s Investigative Reporting Program, the students had the opportunity to do some original reporting on the pandemic for The New York Times and other respected outlets, such as The Atlantic and KQED public radio.

Students also had the opportunity to learn from more than a dozen guest speakers, many of them renowned scientists based on campus. These talks, a regular feature, ground students in the science and contemporary thinking around such topics as biodiversity, water resources, urban development and agriculture, and how all are being reshaped by climate change.

Many of the public health issues discussed in class were later echoed in the pandemic and efforts to combat it. It soon became apparent that the need for common, public-minded action, and the need to confront science denial and misinformation are challenges faced in trying to slow the pace of both Covid-19 and climate change.

A couple of the stories produced this year with editing by instructors Fahn and Schapiro did relate directly to environmental themes raised in the class. Michaela Vatcheva wrote for The New York Times on how the pandemic hampered efforts by researchers in northern California to understand a spike in grey whale deaths during the animals’ migratory journey from Mexico to Alaska. And Julia Kane wrote a piece for Inside Climate News on how the diesel industry used the pandemic to try and undermine air pollution regulations in California.

Although the course ended before the major wildfires now plaguing the American West broke out, Will McCarthy reported for The New York Times on how the pandemic was constricting fire prevention strategies. Anne Daugherty also produced a piece for that newspaper on the graduation of the high school class in the town of Paradise, which was decimated by fire a couple of years ago.

Both EJN and the JSchool have confirmed their plans to continue supporting the class in 2021. You can read many of the stories produced by Earth Journalism students over the last eight years in this e-magazine.

Banner image: Firefighters conduct a two-day prescribed fire project with the Moraga-Orinda Fire District and the Cal Fire crew from Delta Conservation Camp in Contra Costa County in April / Credit: Anne Daugherty