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New Horizons in Environmental Communication: L.S.U. Project Seeks Feedback

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This is a guest post by Zeynep Altinay, PhD research and teaching assistant at LSU Manhsip School of Mass Communication (Contact Zeynep on Twitter @zemaltinay) and Paige Brown, Ph.D. student and Coastal Initiative graduate assistant in the LSU Office of Research Communications & Economic Development (Contact Paige on Twitter @FromTheLabBench). Project Contact: pbrow11[at]tigers.lsu.edu.

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You can help us teach new generations of journalists to be better science and environmental communicators.

An estimate of population impacted by climate change along the U.S. Coast, Journal of Coastal Research SI 56, 1522-1526 - Lam, N.S.-N., Arenas, H., Li, Z., Liu, K.B. 2009b. Photo compliments of Nina Lam, LSU.

An estimate of population impacted by climate change along the U.S. Coast, Journal of Coastal Research SI 56, 1522-1526 - Lam, N.S.-N., Arenas, H., Li, Z., Liu, K.B. 2009b. Photo compliments of Nina Lam, LSU.

I’m writing today to introduce a new science and environmental communication project taking place at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, funded by our Coastal Sustainability Studio. For this 2013-2014 project, led by several colleagues in research communications and environmental science research at LSU, we are looking for feedback from science and environmental writers and communicators as well as environmental scientists, coastal community members and journalism students.

So what is this new Manship environmental communication project? Two mass communication PhD students (Paige Brown and Zeynep Altinay) are starting a collaborative project to survey current approaches and develop new approaches to best practices in modern environmental communication. Throughout the 2013-2014 academic year, we will be collaborating with coastal scientists, mass communication researchers and science communicators to discuss coastal sustainability and resiliency challenges facing the Gulf Coast and other coastal communities.

How will the project work? We want to interview science writers, journalists, PR practitioners, bloggers, Tweeters and actively communicating scientists, to learn more about how these communicators go about interesting and engaging their audiences in the environmental issues faced by a growing number of coastal cities. We want to do this because we believe that while many of us are approaching communication of environmental issues and environment-related science from many different angles, a collection of best practices and real-world communication experience under one ‘roof’ could be an invaluable resource.

We also want journalism students, community members and leaders, and policy makers to help us address gaps in current communication tools and methods addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. For journalism students, what would you want to learn from a course in coastal environmental communication? For community members, how could environmental communicators better help you understand and prepare for the environmental issues facing your coastal regions?

Collaboration equals progress. As we progress with this project, we will be sharing our findings and experiences through the Scientific American blog network. At the end of our one year work, we will compile our results to create a best practices Toolkit for environmental communicators, and use this to inform a new Fall 2014 Coastal Environmental Communication undergraduate course at LSU in the Manship School of Mass Communication. With this new course, we hope provide training for future journalists and scientists alike.

How can I help? Great question! We hope to hear your suggestions and opinions regarding best practices in environmental communication. As our project moves forward, we will be looking for volunteers to interview with us, in person at LSU, in person at various science communication conferences we will be attending, and remotely via Skype and phone. If you communicate on environmental issues, whether you are covering science or politics, social science or policy, we want to hear from you. We will also be posting research surveys to this blog, in which environmental communicators can participate.

If you are interested in contributing via qualitative interview, contact Paige Brown at pbrow11[at]tigers.lsu.edu.

While we are gearing up to conduct interviews and surveys with experts in the science and environmental communication fields, you can follow us on Twitter @SciCommLSU, and talk to us about the ways you engage your audiences using hashtag #LSUenvirocomm. If you are a journalism student or budding science journalist, using the hashtag to tell us what you would want to learn from a course on coastal environmental communication. Environmental psychology? Science of sea level rise? Digital media techniques? Effective narrative structures?

Why the coast? Coastal land’s proximity to the ocean makes coastal zones among the most sensitive areas to natural disasters. Over the years, coastal hazards have caused fatalities, multi-million dollar damages, and loss of cultural heritages and natural resources, especially in coastal Louisiana. Catastrophes such as hurricanes and floods have worn out communities financially, socially, and psychologically.

Despite severe hazards, approximately half of the U.S. population lives near coasts today. Some of these communities are likely to be the immediate victims of threats such as global climate change and sea level rise. While scientists, journalists and PR practitioners in Louisiana must deal with environmental issues on a regular basis, professional training in environmental communication for scientists and in training in coastal sciences and environmental psychology for journalists and PR practitioners is currently lacking. With this project we will incorporate traditional and digital communication tools, and create interdisciplinary knowledge of best communication practices to address environmental changes and adaptation strategies for coastal Louisiana.

 





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