Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism lecturer and WSHU managing editor J.D. Allen received an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Excellence in Science Communication Award from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The award is for the first season of Allen’s ongoing climate change podcast Higher Ground, produced for WSHU, a Long Island National Public Radio affiliate station. The award is in the Best Science Reporting on the Local/Regional Level category.
“The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is one of the most important organizations for developing evidence-based scientific advice for the United States and beyond,” said Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis. “This honor is a significant achievement for our School of Communication and Journalism and a win for climate change communication more broadly, which couldn’t be more important at this time. I am delighted that Stony Brook’s collaborative approach to science and science communication – across the School of Communication and Journalism, the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and WSHU – has earned this well-deserved recognition. Congratulations to all.”
In the series, which is produced with support from the Kavli Foundation and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Allen and co-host/producer Sabrina Garone explore some of the many ways climate change is affecting people and places across Long Island, as well as how communities are working to adapt, mitigate, and respond to the climate crisis.
“This award is a tremendous honor for communicating science,” said Allen, a 2016 SBU journalism graduate. “At WSHU Public Radio, we are members of a coastal community that is challenged by climate change. This award is recognition that conversations about mitigation, resiliency, adaptation and other systematic strategies are worth exploring with our neighbors — and elsewhere in the U.S. — because these solutions might give us the best chance at survival and help save the places millions of people call home. As journalists, our goal should be to foster constructive dialogue around science that inspires and empowers our listeners.”
“Many of the world’s most pressing problems – including climate change – involve science, but science alone is not sufficient for creating solutions. Effective science communication and engagement are critical for us to create the powerful solutions we need,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. “JD’s hard work to shed light on Long Island communities’ efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change helps demonstrate the importance of effective science communication and solutions-oriented storytelling in this struggle. I’m so proud of this work, and of JD’s achievement.”
The Schmidt Awards honor journalists and researchers across fields and career stages with 12 awards in three categories highlighting efforts to communicate science in society. Sponsored by Eric and Wendy Schmidt’s philanthropic foundation Schmidt Futures, the awards give $600,000 in total prizes to the recipients. WSHU will receive a $20,000 prize.
“We are thrilled by this prestigious recognition—and doubly honored that we have received this award in its inaugural year!” said Rima Dael, WSHU’s station manager. “WSHU’s mission is to serve our community with content that informs and educates, and that ultimately helps make this region an even better place to live. I am inspired every day by the work of our news team, and we are so gratified when their work receives well-deserved acknowledgment.”
The first season included episodes ranging from issues with Long Island’s electrical grid in the event of another superstorm, dying bee populations’ effect on local agriculture and the social complexities of which populations are most impacted by a changing climate, among other topics. It featured experts from SBU’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, including Donovan Finn, assistant professor; Lesley Thorne, associate professor, and Kimberly Lato, a doctoral student.
The podcast was produced with help from several SBU student interns: Kelly Hills-Muckey, then a graduate student in genetics and science communication, worked as an associate producer alongside journalism major Sara Ruberg ‘22. Josh Joseph, who also earned a journalism degree in 2022, produced graphics for the first season and is working on the second. WSHU’s Long Island bureau is located on the Stony Brook campus, and frequently offers internships to SoCJ students.
“This is probably the biggest award the station has received,” said Terry Sheridan, WSHU senior director of news and education and SoCJ journalism instructor. “To have Higher Ground recognized by the National Academies is a validation of the collaboration between WSHU and the SoCJ. It could not have been done without the work of Stony Brook undergraduate and graduate students who painstakingly worked to verify the science, which allowed JD and Sabrina to effectively communicate it.”
Higher Ground’s second season is being released by WSHU with support from Sesame Workshop. The new season crosses the Long Island Sound to Bridgeport, CT, and examines climate change through the eyes of some of the city’s eighth graders.
“When we started thinking about season two, we really wanted to make sure that we focused on the youth perspective and engaging youth in the production of the podcast,” Allen said.
The podcast is a strong example of solutions journalism, an approach to reporting that focuses on identifying and highlighting efforts to solve problems in society rather than simply pointing out problems. Solutions journalism is a core part of the SoCJ’s undergraduate and graduate journalism programs, and the school was recently named the first of four Solutions Journalism Network hub institutions. WSHU is also moving to more fully incorporate the solutions-based approach into its news reporting, according to Dael.
The podcast was supported by the Kavli Foundation, via the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
The award marks the second national recognition the SoCJ has received following the 2021 Murrow Award for reporting on the history of slavery on Long Island.