Alumnus Wins National Environmental Journalism Award

Posted on: November 4, 2013

BrianAwardA College of Communication Arts & Sciences alumnus was received a 2013 award for Outstanding Beat Reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Brian Bienkowski, who earned a master's degree in Journalism with a specialization in environmental journalism from CAS in May 2012, received second place in the beat reporting category for five stories he wrote under the heading "Environmental Health in the Great Lakes Region" for Environmental Health News.

"I was quite honored to receive recognition from an organization full of people that I look up to. It feels good to know that there is still interest in investigative, long-form journalism," Bienkowski said.

After graduating from MSU, Bienkowski started working as the senior editor and staff writer for Environmental Health News, an independent, national, nonprofit news organization that reports and publishes stories on environmental topics and provides daily access to news from other media around the world.

The judges had this to say about his work: "Brian Bienkowski's work is a study in environmental-justice reporting. Whether it is a Michigan Indian tribe fighting a new copper mine for fear that sulfuric acid will contaminate sacred waters, or tribes whose culture has been contaminated by industry, or low-income, minority communities of East Chicago where blood samples show three times the normal level of PCBs, he makes the reader understand both the scientific and human dimensions of pollution. And when it comes to more purely scientific concerns, like the role of Great Lake trout as barometers for the wider pollution of lake ecosystems, he shows deftness and grace in explaining how the tissues of these fish can be read as a history text of the decades of pollution that have soiled these waters."

Dave-PoulsonWhen he picked up his award, Bienkowski mentioned one of his mentors David Poulson, Associate Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, who has taught journalism at MSU for nearly 11 years following a 22-year career as a reporter and editor.

"My education at the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at MSU is the reason I have my dream job -- it's as simple as that," Bienkowski said. "But, more specifically, Dave Poulson has had a significant impact on my career and life. I came to the Knight Center with almost no journalism experience, and Dave turned me into a journalist. He taught me how to write. He continues to be a friend, mentor and someone I look up to."

Poulson, also an MSU alumnus, recently was elected to the board of directors of the national Society of Environmental Journalists and will represent the 1,300-member society's academic section. He has been a member of the society for more than 21 years. Poulson also is the founder and editor of Great Lakes Echo, a nonprofit environmental news service operated by the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism that serves the Great Lakes region.

As a graduate student, Bienkowski was an assistant editor and reporter for Great Lakes Echo.

Bienkowski also was part of the reporting team that won an Oakes Award honorable mention for the 2012 Environmental Health News series, "Pollution, Poverty, People of Color." The Oakes awards are among the premier awards for environmental journalism. The 10-day series reported on a legacy of lingering environmental problems and newly emerging threats that are jeopardizing people of color in low-income communities across the country.

For that series, reporters were dispatched to seven cities to profile the environmental health threats facing low-income communities of color. Bienkowski wrote about a Native American tribe in Michigan, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community that is battling a new mine, which poses a threat to the water that the tribe considers sacred.

Bienkowski also has contributed to newspapers and magazines throughout Michigan and nationally, including Mindful Metropolis magazine, Lansing City Pulse and Michigan River News.

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