The power of local news was on brilliant display at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center last Wednesday. In a sun-filled room overlooking the Charles River, the Knight Science Journalism Program honored reporters from the Charleston Post and Courier with the inaugural Victor K. McElheny Award for local and regional science journalism.
Tony Bartelme, Chad Dunbar, and Emory Parker were celebrated for their stunning series, “Into the Gulf Stream,” which explored how ocean currents might affect offshore oil exploration off the Carolina coast. And in a rousing keynote speech, Pulitzer Prizewinner and Boston Globe veteran Matt Carroll encouraged the dozens of science journalists in attendance to seize new opportunities to reinvent local news.
Here are some of the highlights from the luncheon ceremony:
Victor McElheny (center), the founding director of the Knight Science Journalism, chats with his wife, Ruth (left) and former KSJ Associate Director David Corcoran (right). All three were recognized during the ceremony for the important roles they played in providing the support and planning to make the journalism award possible. The Victor McElheny Award also received generous support from the Rita Allen Foundation of Princeton, New Jersey.
Matthew Carroll, a journalism professor of practice at Northeastern University, delivered a keynote with a rousing thesis: Despite the shuttering of many local outlets and substantial layoffs at others, the future of local journalism is as bright as ever. He called on young journalists to use their courage and grit to open new local outlets in places lacking coverage. Carroll spent 26 years at The Boston Globe and was a member of the Spotlight team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its coverage of the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal.
KSJ director Deborah Blum (at podium) applauds McElheny Award winner Chad Dunbar (center), as Associate Director Ashley Smart (right) looks on. Blum lauded Dunbar and his colleagues for a series that weaved together history, science, and culture to give readers both a picture of “the Gulf Stream’s might and its fragility in the face of a changing climate.” She also praised the creativity of a data-driven simulation showing how quickly oil would spread if spilled from offshore drilling operations and an accompanying adult coloring book — “30 Days in the Gulf Stream” — designed by Bartelme and Dunbar.
From left to right, KSJ Director Deborah Blum and Associate Director Ashley Smart present Emory Parker, Chad Dunbar, and Tony Bartelme with the 2019 Victor McElheny Award. In his acceptance speech, Bartelme echoed Carroll’s earlier call to action, saying The Post and Courier regularly “punches above its weight” due in part to the strong backing of an owner who cares deeply about local news. Parker said that it was a welcome and unexpected honor to win a journalism award, as he had begun his career as a research scientist. “It’s hard to state how much this means to us,” he said.
After the ceremony, honorees and guests take in the view from the sun-drenched Samberg Center balcony. The overarching message of the day was an inspiring one: Investigations and compelling narratives have a unique ability to illuminate the ways that science affects people’s everyday lives and communities.