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Columbia Cans Environmental Journalism

More tidings from the Columbia School Of Journalism:

Columbia Suspends Environmental Journalism Program

Falling employment, rising education costs to blame

By Curtis Brainard

October 19, 2009

For the first time since it was created fourteen years ago, Columbia University’s highly regarded dual-degree graduate program in environmental journalism will not be accepting applications for next academic year.

In a letter to faculty at the Graduate School of Journalism, the Department of Environmental Sciences, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the program directors cited falling employment in the field, the rising costs of education, and a lack of financial aid for students as the reasons for their decision:

As you know, media organizations across the county are in dire financial straits and thousands of journalists’ jobs have been eliminated. Science and environment beats have been particularly vulnerable. Although our graduates have done well in their careers, even those still employed are finding few opportunities to do the kind of substantive reporting for which the dual degree program has trained them, as they scramble to do their own work plus that of laid-off colleagues.

The letter stressed that the two-year program—which offers two master’s degrees, in environmental science and journalism—will be suspended, rather than cancelled, so that its directors, Kim Kastens and Marguerite Holloway, can evaluate “its accomplishments to date and prospects for the future.”

Layoffs and buyouts have been rife among environmental journalists (whether more or less so than in the rest of the industry is hard to say). Many newspapers with reputations for strong coverage on that front, from the Sacramento Bee to the Columbus Dispatch, have let go of talented specialists. At Columbia, applications to the environmental journalism program have not seen a marked drop-off, Kastens says, but the number of students who accept offers to enroll has declined over the last three years. Although the classes have always been small, with no more than six students, this year, only one of eight matriculated.

“Although our students are assuming huge debt for knowledge and skills that we think are valuable,” Kastens and Holloway wrote in their letter, “we do not feel comfortable exhorting young people to take on that burden when their chances of repaying it have so diminished.”

Environmental journalists and both current and former students widely regarded the decision as a loss for the field…

It is much harder to find work today than it was three years ago

Yet the fact remains that numerous outlets are, in fact, making environmental coverage a priority, and the reason is simple: topics like energy and climate change are at the forefront of the national agenda.

Dina Cappiello, who covers environmental issues out of The Associated Press’s D.C. bureau, has worked at some half dozen news outlets since she completed Columbia’s dual-degree program in 1999. She says she has managed to stay “one step ahead of the crashing wave” of layoffs that has battered the industry. And having an environmental degree has, at times, been a nuisance when applying for jobs where editors mistook her for an environmentalist or didn’t understand the need for the rigorous scientific training she received. But once on the job, Cappiello adds, editors always recognized the value of her training, and never more so than over the last couple years.

“You have legislation on Capitol Hill that rivals the environmental statutes of the 1970s, at the beginning of the environmental movement,” she says. “You have an administration that made climate and energy its number-two priority, behind healthcare. It’s a beat that I, as one person, struggle at times to keep up with, and I wouldn’t be able to cover it as well as I do without my experience and training. At my last job at Energy & Environment Publishing, there were ten people that break my beat into ten slices.” …

Columbia’s two-year program… costs nearly $89,000. Columbia also offers a separate, one-year master’s in science journalism, but what makes the dual-degree program unique is the rigorous hands-on lab and fieldwork in environmental science.

Given the price, it is no wonder that students are thinking twice about going that route, but cost is clearly only one of many issues that Columbia must address. Kastens and Holloway say that the design and structure of their program could also use a few tweaks. But the most important thing is that Columbia’s science departments and its journalism school begin to prioritize environmental journalism in a way they previously haven’t. It is one of the most important beats in the industry right now, and they will be letting down their colleagues and the public if they do not find a way to revive this crucial program.

How is this possible? Aren’t environmental journalist jobs the greenest of green shoot jobs?

Of course it is news like this that goes a long way to understanding Columbia’s demand for a journalism bailout we posted earlier.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, October 20th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Columbia Cans Environmental Journalism”

  1. Laree says:

    George Stephanopoulos, was also a guest this morning, on Imus In The
    Morning, he must have run the White House gauntlet, and concertina
    wire. He appeared this morning with Imus on Fox Business News, and Octomom’s indecent proposal to Jon Gosselin.

    Seal Hunter is back blogging. Octomom really lit,. Hunts with Club’s fuse GRIN.


  2. Rusty Shackleford says:

    No more environmental journalism? My GOD, how will I know when to break out the boat when the oceans rise? Who will keep me informed? I can’t just expect that type of thing to be left to REGULAR journalists….

    I feel so naked…


  3. proreason says:

    Isn’t Environmental Journalism a code word for Communists.

    That’s what all the Communists became when the Berlin Wall fell…..environmentalists. Really.

  4. MinnesotaRush says:

    “For the first time since it was created fourteen years ago, Columbia University’s highly regarded dual-degree graduate program in environmental journalism will not be accepting applications for next academic year.”

    Highly regarded by …………???? Maybe not so much, huh. Just sayin’.

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