AGU honors journalists Rich Monastersky, Tony Bartelme and Courtney Humphries for outstanding science reporting

20 July 2017


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three journalists are being awarded top honors from the American Geophysical Union this year for their reporting on the Earth and space sciences.

AGU recognizes veteran journalist and Nature acting chief news and features editor Rich Monastersky with the 2017 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism. The world’s largest organization of Earth and space scientists also honors Tony Bartelme, special projects reporter for The Post and Courier, with the 2017 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – Features for a series of “hidden stories” about the impact of climate change on the planet. Freelance reporter Courtney Humphries receives the 2017 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News for her story about how suburban woods can be surprisingly effective at pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Cowen award winner Rich Monastersky’s career in science journalism has spanned more than 30 years, as a writer, editor, advisor and mentor. From 1987-2000, he served as Earth sciences editor at Science News magazine, before moving to The Chronicle of Higher Education as a general science reporter from 2000-2008.  Since 2008, Rich has been an editor at Nature, where he both writes and edits features on the geosciences, climate and the environment. He is currently the acting chief news and features editor at Nature.

The Robert C. Cowen Award commends a journalist for “significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting or writing on the Earth and space sciences for the general public.” The Cowen award, named for the longtime science editor (now retired) of The Christian Science Monitor, is given no more often than every other year and is embodied in a presentation piece consisting of a glass globe on a pedestal.

“The breadth and depth of Rich’s reporting have placed him at the front line of every major Earth science story for the past 25 years, yielding an incredibly authoritative body of work in earth science,” the Cowen award committee noted.  “His ongoing mentorship is shaping the next generation of earth science reporters in ways that will last long after Rich retires.  He is the archetype of the exemplary science journalist who has cast a strong light across the earth and planetary sciences.”

The Cowen award committee noted that Monastersky has undertaken each phase of his career with dedication, hard work and a keen eye for important science news. During his career, Monastersky has garnered numerous journalism awards for his science writing, including the Public Communications Award from the American Society for Microbiology in 1999, the 2002 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism from AGU, and two American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science Journalism awards in 2001 and 2005 for his work with The Chronicle of Higher Education. Feature articles Monastersky has edited have also received science journalism awards from the American Meteorological Society, AAAS and AGU.

The 2017 Walter Sullivan Award winner is Tony Bartelme, honored for his series “Every Other Breath: Hidden Stories of Climate Change,” published in The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) in 2016. The Walter Sullivan Award, named for the late, renowned New York Times science writer, honors excellence in science feature writing for work prepared with a deadline of more than one week, and comes with a $5,000 prize and a plaque.

The award committee praised Bartelme’s “luminous stories about the impact of climate change on the planet.” The four-part series included “An Urgent Mystery,” focused on tiny plankton in the ocean, which produce half the world’s oxygen and are threatened by climate change; “Lowcountry on the Edge,” dealing with coastal South Carolina’s vulnerability to rising seas; “Fade to White,” revealing how a coral reef off South Carolina offers lessons about coral bleaching; and “Chasing Carbon,” which illuminated the invisible sources of the greenhouse gas.

All the stories “were narrative in the most powerful sense of that word: They brought readers along with the author, allowing us to seemingly discover, as he did, critical connections that can be impossible for most of us to see,” the Sullivan award committee said.

One judge said Bartelme’s depiction of scientists as people did a great job describing emotion while avoiding anything maudlin. “We learn what drives them to do this research, their emotions, what they have to deal with … but without distracting from the main story and solid science,” the judge said.

Courtney Humphries receives the 2017 David Perlman Award for “Where Forests Work Harder” published in CityLab on December 19, 2016.  Named for the distinguished San Francisco Chronicle science editor David Perlman, the award recognizes work published with deadline pressure of one week or less, and comes with a $5,000 award and a plaque.

Humphries’ article describes how, because of edge effects, suburban woods can be surprisingly effective at pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The article describes the results of a paper published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academies of Science).

Members of the Perlman award committee appreciated the clear, well-thought out structure and prose of the article. They also noted that the article was particularly accessible to the non-scientist because of its mix of first-hand descriptions, scientific exposition, and quotes from the author and other scientists in the field. It also provided readers with a new way of looking at a familiar urban environment.

“This story exhibited a confident and fluid writing style. Although the paper focused on forest ecology, the article showed the implications of this research for atmospheric science and climate change, a vital element of AGU research,” said one judge.

The three AGU journalism awards will be formally presented during AGU’s annual Honors Ceremony on Wednesday, 13 December 2017, as part of the 2017 AGU Fall Meeting in New Orleans.

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