Author Archives: davepoulson

Knight Center student recognized for food reporting


Carin Tunney

Carin Tunney

The Association of Food Journalists recently recognized Knight Center student Carin Tunney for excellence in writing about food.

Tunney received second place in the student division of the 2017 contest for her story about the growing interest in North America in raising insects for food. The story is called  “Can tiny livestock solve big hunger?

The 2017 awards, which recognized excellence in 13 categories of food writing and editing, visuals and multimedia, received 289 entries.

Started in 1986, AFJ’s awards competition is the oldest still-functioning contest for food journalists.

The story appeared in Great Lakes Echo and also in The Food Fix,  both news service published by the center at Michigan State University.

Tunney recently received her masters degree in journalism from MSU. She is now studying for her doctorate at the university.

Knight Center student reports on the environment for Interlochen Public Radio

Max Johnston, center kneeling, reported on the environment as an intern for Interlochen Public Radio.

Max Johnston, center kneeling, reported on the environment as an intern for Interlochen Public Radio.

By Rianna Middleton

Michigan-native Maxwell Johnston, a journalism fifth-year senior, had never been farther north than Grand Rapids until last summer when he interned for Interlochen Public Radio, a small Northwest Michigan news organization.

As a self-described “non-outdoorsy person”, Johnston felt a little out of sorts with the prospect of being surrounded by nothing but nature for four months. However, his recent experience taking classes with the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism inspired him to take a chance on the opportunity. Months later, he emerged with seasoned reporting skills, advice and even a little taste of “roughing it” in the great outdoors of Northern Michigan.


As Johnston stepped into the role of environmental news intern, he discovered how a small staff of 5 reporters covered local and state news to keep the local community and surrounding areas well-informed. Johnston didn’t spend his summer fetching coffee— he was out in the field gathering story ideas, audio and writing scripts for himself and his colleagues.

“I was an intern, but I was pitching my own stories,” Johnston said. “No one ever said ‘Oh no, you shouldn’t do that’, which is probably something you should say more often to a 22-year-old reporter.”

According to Johnston, the station, located 25 minutes outside Traverse City in a small town called Interlochen, is the perfect location to learn hands-on environmental reporting.

“You’re in the middle of the woods, in this beautiful part of our state, which also happens to be a very fragile part of our state,” Johnston said. “There’s a story wherever you look.”

Johnston heard about the opportunity through the Knight Center, and with the mentorship he received from Eric Freedman, director, and David Poulson, senior associate director, he fine-tuned his work samples and got the courage to apply.

“I had a class with [Freedman] in the fall and [Poulson] in the spring,” said Johnston. “Being around them and getting positive feedback on my stories definitely pushed me towards going for the internship.”

Interlochen Radio has a close relationship with Michigan Radio and National Public Radio (NPR), a connection Johnston utilized to inquire about having his work aired on Michigan Radio’s Environment Report. After reaching out to the host Rebecca Williams and working on a story for several weeks, his story about carp missing from Grand Traverse Bay aired on the show.

“It was a huge deal for me because I have listened to the show my whole life,” Johnston said.

Staying Involved 
On campus, Johnston has been involved in MSU Telecasters, is a current contributor for Impact 89FM and works for Poulson on the Knight Center’s podcast, The Food Fix, where he hosts and produces content about food scarcity and innovative techniques to solve world hunger.

As a journalism student who was well-trained in writing basics for print news, Johnston went through an adjustment period to get his work oriented for broadcast. He learned to alter his focus from the deadline of the story to the quality of the content and developed an engaging, descriptive style. He also learned that planning out what kind of equipment a story requires is an essential component of broadcast work.

“The biggest adjustment is learning how to write like that, using narrative tools and AP style,” Johnston said. “The trick to that is to listen to a lot of radio stories and podcasts, so you get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.”

Johnston advises that students interested in radio look for opportunities outside of their comfort zones. He believes that getting your foot in the door at a station makes all of the difference, whether it is a volunteer or paid position. He also recommends getting used to industry-standard software and equipment, as well as the workspace and expectatopms.

This story first appeared on MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences’ website.

Telling stories to change the world

CIP scientist Willy Pradel explains his research at a mock press conference. Image: David Poulson

CIP scientist Willy Pradel explains his research at a mock press conference. Image: David Poulson

By David Poulson

Jan Kreuze stood in front of a room full of reporters and began shredding paper.

“This is how a plant attacks a virus,” the researcher explained.

Then he bent over and gathered up the pieces. Reassembling them with a computer program is an easier, cheaper way of getting a picture of the disease than sifting through the genetics of an entire plant, he said. And that could lead to better strategies for fighting it. Continue reading

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