NEW YORK, NY, September 15, 2011 – Andrew Revkin, the noted science journalist who is now a Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace University and writes the “Dot Earth” blog for The New York Times, has become the first two-time winner of the Communication Award bestowed jointly by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.
The award is arguably the most prestigious award in science journalism, coming from the nation’s preeminent scientific advisory organizations (the jury is journalists and educators) and includes a $20,000 check. It recognizes “excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public.”
Revkin is one of four winners. The others are Rebecca Skloot, for her book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (Crown Books, a division of Random House) about ethical issues in science; the television producer Alexa Elliott and a production team at South Florida public television station WPBT2, for “Changing Seas: Sentinels of the Seas” about bottlenose dolphins; and Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for The New York Times, for “Cancer,” about clinical drug trials. More than 300 print, broadcast, and Internet entries published or aired in 2010 were submitted for consideration.
Revkin is the first repeat winner in the history of the awards –he also won in the inaugural year, in the magazine and newspapers category, for his coverage of the environment and climate change. This year he won the online category for Dot Earth coverage of a similar topic, “climate and sustainability.”
The citation recognizes Revkin’s “pioneering” use of social media and stresses his “worldwide” readership and influence.
After four years in existence, Dot Earth is now read by millions of people in more than 200 countries from Brazil to China. Revkin has over 26,000 followers on Twitter (@revkin); he maxed out his allotment on Facebook at 5,000 friends a while back.
Blogging as a class assignment
Revkin brings his style of communicating to his students at Pace.
This fall he has launched a new graduate course called “Blogging a Better Planet.” He says his students will explore how the blogosphere and World Wide Web can, positively, “build a brand, create a collaborative globe-spanning community, challenge traditional media, or spark the kinds of innovations and relationship that could make the world a better place.” However, he also will make sure they learn “how blogs can create insular ideological bubbles, foment hatred, and spread myths and falsehoods.”
Starting this week, anyone can track Wednesday night class discussions and related issues by searching for the hashtag #paceblog on Twitter.
His teaching goal echoes his own career: “They will learn how to be online communication innovators tipping the balance toward progress.”
In his blog, Revkin has explored gaming as a path to learning and “has been incredibly successful at encouraging copious, high-quality commenting and debate on the site,” according to The Columbia Journalism review. He invites comments on imagined private conversations by world leaders, encourages readers to post video greetings, and came up with a novel way of annotating speeches and documents that lets readers respond to particular lines they find appealing or problematic. He calls himself “a selfish blogger,” using the site “to sift for insights and ideas as much as I offer my own.”
The most famous reaction to Dot Earth, prompted by his posts on population control in 2009, was Rush Limbaugh’s half-serious suggestion that Revkin kill himself to help save the earth. (The subsequent NPR report included the Limbaugh rant; Revkin blogged about the incident and asked Limbaugh for an apology to his wife and sons.)
Revkin says that in an online environment “filled with blogs that are essentially megaphones,” he tries to avoid creating a “comfort zone” for people reinforcing their own views and instead aims to provide “more like a ‘discomfort zone’ dealing with disquieting realities behind substantial global challenges, and trying (not always successfully) to foster constructive discourse on tough questions.”
Most of the blog is informed reporting. During negotiations in Cancun last December, Revkin found an error in a climate-treaty draft document. It was fixed once he brought it to the attention of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and his blog audience.
Through more than 1,600 posts, his coverage has ranged from in-depth examination of issues like warming and genetically modified crops to an offbeat personal exploration of his own dependence on fossil fuels (in a video report following a blizzard and blackout titled “living the imposed low-carbon life.”)
Infinite aspirations, finite planet
For nearly four years, first while a news reporter and, since he moved to Pace in early 2010, as an Op-Ed contributor, Revkin says he has used the blog to probe one question– “How do we fit humanity’s infinite aspirations on a finite planet?”
From 1995 through 2009, Revkin covered the environment for The New York Times. While the media largely ignored the climate story until the last several years, Revkin spent more than 20 years immersed in the subject, producing more than 500 magazine and newspaper stories, two books, a prize-winning Discovery-Times documentary, “Arctic Rush,” and hundreds of posts on his blog. His reporting on the political struggles over climate policy consistently broke stories. His exclusive exposé of efforts by political operatives to rewrite government climate reports in the White House and prevent NASA scientists from conveying their views on warming were quickly followed by the resignations of two presidential appointees.
Award ceremony and funding
Revkin and the other award winners will be honored during a ceremony on Oct. 14 at the National Academies’ Keck Center in Washington, D.C. The awards have been supported since 2003 by the W.M. Keck Foundation as part of the Keck Futures Initiative to encourage interdisciplinary research, a program funded by a 15-year, $40 million grant from the foundation. Nominations for the 2012 Communication Awards will be accepted beginning Jan. 10, 2012, for work published or broadcast in 2011. More information about the National Academies Futures Initiative and the Communication Awards is at www.keckfutures.org, and about the W.M. Keck Foundation at www.wmkeck.org.
About Pace University
For 105 years, Pace University has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems.