Field trip: Teaching journalists and scientists on two continents

Malawi researcher Phillip Kamwendo, with hat, explains experiment in groundnut production to African journalists . Image: David Poulson

Malawi researcher Phillip Kamwendo, with hat, explains crop experiments to African journalists . Image: David Poulson

By David Poulson

Phillip Kamwendo finished explaining to a group of African reporters how he used “friendly bacteria” to improve groundnut seeds.

Then the Malawi researcher turned to a nearby team led by Michigan State University experts, flashed them a wide grin and gave them two thumbs up. It was a highlight for our team that had worked for days with Kamwendo and others at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) to refine how to explain their research.

“When he asked the reporters how many of them understood what an innoculant was, I felt like a proud grandmother,” said Emmanuella Delva, a program officer with USAID, the project’s funder,  and who pitched in on the training.

Amol Pavangadkar, director of MSU's Sandbox Studios, explains video production techniques to Malawian journalists

Amol Pavangadkar, director of MSU’s Sandbox Studios, explains video production techniques to Malawian journalists. Image: David Poulson

The work in Malawi was the start of a two-continent, three-country training tour that I’m still on.  I’m in Rwanda now, working with other scientists – including two MSU alums – at the International Potato Center to help them explain their research story to funders and others. Next week I’m in Lima, Peru, doing the same thing at that center’s South American headquarters.

The work in Malawi was by far the most complex. Continue reading

Advice to utility, regulatory agency press officers from Knight Center director

Eric Freedman

Eric Freedman

It can be challenging to clearly communicate electric power industry issues to the public because many media professionals are unfamiliar with industry concepts, regulations and technology. Yet clear communication by utilities and regulators is essential for informing customers who may have concerns about reliability, safety and cost. It can also inform public agencies and elected officials engaged in critical decision-making and policymaking that directly affect the economy, environment, national security and stock prices.
That’s an observation by Knight Center director Eric Freedman from “Working with the Press to Get the Story Right,” a column he wrote for the Electric Power Research Institute, the independent nonprofit research arm of electricity generation industry.

Tubin’ down the river

Tubing on River

Tubing on the Thornapple River near Hastings, Michigan. Image: Eric Freedman

By Eric Freedman

There are many ways to enjoy a river. On a boat. In a canoe or kayak. Wading. Fly fishing or ice skating, depending on the season. Dangling your feet from a dock or overhanging limb. With a camera or binoculars.

This time of year, it can be floating in a tube on a shallow, slow-moving river such as mid-Michigan’s Thornapple.

It’s an 88-mile-long tributary of the Grand River, meandering at a restful pace from Eaton County downstream to Ada. We put in a few miles from Hastings, the Barry County seat.

Certainly the Thornapple isn’t a storied river of song. “Now the Missouri is a mighty river,
Look away, you rollin’ river,” as we know from the folk song “Oh Shenandoah.” The Thornapple isn’t the mighty Mississippi of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and the mournful Mississippi that Paul Robeson sang of in “Ol’ Man River:

O’ man river,
Dat ol’ man river,
He mus’ know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’
He jes’ keeps rollin’
He keeps on rollin’ along

And it’s not the powerful Columbia River that Woody Guthrie celebrated in “Roll on Columbia”:

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
Roll on Columbia, roll on.

The Thornapple, is, just well, it is.

Like other Michigan tubing rivers like the Chippewa, Lower Platte, Cedar, Manistee and Rifle, the Thornapple is the kind where turtles bask on logs, barely disturbed by passing tubers. The kind where luminescent green, blue and red dragonflies alight on your hand or hat. The kind where snags of storm-fallen branches gently clutch a tube for a moment before releasing it to continue its journey. The kind where the scattered folks who live along its shores can sit in their backyards and watch or ruminate or chat or doze. The kind where butterflies take off when a tube passes by, where vines of wild grapes hang over the water, where waterfowl fly low and where around each bend a gentle adventure lies.

Had Louis Armstrong spent a summer afternoon tubing on the Thornapple, he could have written his “Lazy River” with it in mind:

Oh, up a lazy river where the old mill run
Meet the lazy river with the noonday sun

Linger in the shade of a kind ol’ tree

Throw away your troubles, dream a dream of me, dream a dream of me.


Knight Center alum nabs byline in Audubon

Andy McGlashen

Andy McGlashen

Knight Center alum Andy McGlashen has a story in Audubon about how even a little bit of oil can make it hard for birds to fly.

McGlashen recently started an editorial fellowship with the birding publication in New York City. He is the former communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

His freelance reporting has appeared in Scientific American, Midwest Energy News, Bridge Magazine, The Daily Climate, Environmental Health News  and other publications.

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