Calgary Herald Reporter Covers Environmental Controversies

Derworiz standing in front of the audience answering questions.
Derworiz took questions from the audience about climate change and how the Canadian government is addressing the issue. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Over the course of Colette Derworiz’s 17 years at the Calgary Herald, she’s reported on everything from breaking news to enduring social issues, yet her latest beat has taken her out of the city and into the national parks. Now as a senior reporter on environmental issues, Derworiz spoke to the UM School of Journalism about Canada’s changing climate. Her talk reflected more than just the environment, but also the recent changes in Canada’s political and economic climate.


After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election in October 2015, he removed the so-called muzzle on Canadian scientists that previously banned them from speaking about climate change issues and research. Within these last few months, Derworiz said that climate change went from not being considered a dirty word to becoming a major focus for Canada’s government.

“My job is about to get really boring,” Derworiz had joked to a fellow reporter, but as she reflected in her lecture, “The issue is not yet over.”

Associate Professor Nadia White asked Derworiz if scientists had opened their communication with the public since gaining the freedom to talk about climate change. Legally, Derworiz said the government has clearly communicated this new right, but that researchers’ attitudes have yet to change.

Derworiz spoke at the J-school as part of the Marjorie Nichols Lecture series. Nichols graduated from the J-school in 1966 and worked as a journalist in Canada. In 1998, UM awarded Nichols the Distinguished alumni award, and she continued working in the field until her death from cancer in 1991. Nichols was known for her national political commentary, but as an environmental reporter Derworiz has also seen how the political arena can impact natural resources and the policies governing their use.

At the Herald, Derworiz’s editor trusts her to tell a balanced story, and to avoid the common approach of pitting the environment against the economy. Derworiz said, “I think the new government recognizes that if you do things right for the environment, the economy can benefit from that.”

Alberta’s economy, like Montana, relies predominantly on extraction-based industries and is known for the Athabasca oil sands in the northeast part of the province. Starting in 2017, Derworiz said the government’s goal for the nation-wide carbon tax is to help fund cleaner ways to use oil and coal.

“There seems to be a real conversation going on, rather than just rhetoric,” Derworiz said. “But time will tell if the decisions are truly based off science.”

However, Derworiz knows that environmental issues extend beyond the border. Recently she reported on the trans-boundary sage grouse population between Montana and Alberta and a new plan to relocate 40 sage grouse to Alberta, with hopes keeping a more even distribution on both sides of the Canadian border.

Of current interest to Derworiz, are the upcoming talks between Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama on March 10th. The uncertain future of both countries economies and elections means that Derworiz won’t be running out of stories to cover anytime soon.

By Jana Wiegand

Biogeochemistry Professor and J-school Collaborate through NSF Grant

When University of Montana biogeochemistry Professor Cory Cleveland begins a new project in Panama this summer, a young journalist will be coming along for the ride.

Cleveland will build on his long-held conviction that “a fundamental piece of good science is to communicate it effectively,” when he embeds a graduate student from UM’s Master’s program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism with his research team to document their fieldwork at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

A lift-out quote reading “It’s an innovative model of collaboration between journalism and the sciences that we hope will serve as a model for other research efforts at the University of Montana.” Scientists often struggle to convey the meaning of their work to the general public. Cleveland says the approach of bringing in a journalist from the beginning helped his proposal stand out and get funding from the National Science Foundation in a highly competitive application process. It will allow him to focus on his research while at the same time helping to create better communication. “I’m never going to do as well at that as someone who’s an expert and a professional journalist,” he said.

The collaboration benefits both sides. For the School of Journalism, the opportunity to document all phases of the research will allow a student to produce compelling stories about a rigorous scientific experiment that has large potential impacts on humanity, said Associate Professor Henriette Lowisch, the UM J-School’s graduate program director, who collaborated with Cleveland on his proposal.

“This will be a huge challenge for an emerging journalist, who will be able to practice all they’ve learned about making complex research accessible to the public,” Lowisch said. “It’s an innovative model of collaboration between journalism and the sciences that we hope will serve as a model for other research efforts at the University of Montana.” Together, Lowisch and Cleveland will select a journalism graduate student to accompany the research team.

In Panama, Cleveland will be testing whether tropical plants are able to get more nutrients from the soil than scientists have previously thought. Tropical forests are among the most productive on Earth, and remove significant amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. The plants use CO2 as food to grow, but their growth is ultimately limited by the presence of other nutrients, such as phosphorous, which is scarce in tropical soils. Cleveland’s NSF grant will allow him to study whether tropical plant species have evolved novel ways around this limitation.

The research not only questions conventional wisdom about what plants are capable of, it also carries implications for a world coming to terms with climate change. If Cleveland is right and tropical forests are able to match growing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere with phosphorous and other nutrients in the soil, they’ll act as better carbon sinks, which could help mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels.

It’s a good story for an up-and-coming journalist, but how to cover it will be a choice the graduate student will make on the ground in Panama. The result will go beyond the traditional press release that tries to explain scientific research to the public, and instead use story, the craft of journalism, to showcase science.

Both Lowisch and Cleveland said that the project leaves the journalism student room to tell the story as he or she best sees fit.

We’re just going to say here’s an opportunity, come do something,” Cleveland says. “Hopefully that benefits them and they can tell something interesting about what we’re doing, or maybe not. There’s no agenda.”

Lowisch said that part of the reason she is excited about doing this collaboration with Cleveland is exactly that understanding. “Both journalism and science are disciplines of verification, and to be able to do that you need to be independent and Cory Cleveland has understood that.”

Adapted from UM news release by Andrew Graham

J-School Professor speaks about science journalism

A University of Montana Journalism professor said the Environmental Science Journalism graduate program is a unique part of the Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent.

Logo for the Crown of the Continent Reporting Project
The Crown Reporting Project sponsors students at the University of Montana to produce stories about the environment in the Crown of the Continent region. Learn more about it on the website.

The round table is an annual conference which serves to encourage a dialogue about environmental science in the mountainous north west region of North America. The area known as the Crown of the Continent includes all of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It is one of the wildest places on the continent.

September 17th, Professor Nadia White gave a talk about the specifics of the UM J-School’s environmental science graduate program. “We do emphasize the science end of things,” White said, before going on to explain one of the program’s most unique features, a semester long seminar called Story Lab.

In Story Lab, graduate students in the journalism program are paired with their counterparts in the sciences. The science journalists-to-be embed in research labs, where they spend the semester producing stories in all different mediums about the science and the scientists they get to know.

The motivation behind the class is to address a problematic culture gap between science and journalism. Scientists often “worry about letting someone else control the narrative of their science,” White said. Meanwhile, deadline driven journalists are often frustrated at scientists’ reluctance to give definitive responses before the completion of the excruciating peer review process so necessary to science’s function. This program allows both sides to get to know each other, and two distinct cultures.

In addition to Story Lab, White discussed the new Crown Reporting Fund, which supports journalism students as they pursue stories in the Glacier National Park area of Montana and Canada.

This year, two graduate students have been paired with accomplished professional journalists as mentors. Celia Tobin teamed up with Ted Alvarez, editor of the environmental news website Grist to pursue a story on border crossing contamination from mine waste. Ken Rand is paired with Christopher Joyce, a science correspondent at National Public Radio, to write about invasive fish species in the Flathead Valley.

“Our whole program is based on the idea that we’re in a terrific place to learn to tell stories about the landscape,” said White.

By Andrew Graham