EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN — Residents of the Great Lakes region have one publication to thank for their understanding of the menace that is the zebra mussel, clogger of power plant intake pipes. That publication is the Great Lakes Echo.
A project of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University, the Echo aims to build environmental awareness of the Great Lakes region. Founded in 2008, the site’s staff primarily consists of four to five graduate assistants who work twenty hours a week, producing an impressive amount of content. Led by editor David Poulson, also associate director of the Knight Center, the team also includes five freelancers who file monthly columns. Beyond paid staff and freelancers, a third tier of the Echo’s content comes from undergraduate and graduate students in MSU’s environmental reporting courses. When a student produces quality work, they are given the opportunity to publish their article in the Echo. This serves as an incentive for students as well as an opportunity for the Echo to get fresh reporting and perspectives.
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Though stories about Michigan make up the bulk of the Echo’s coverage, the hiring of freelancers from multiple states is part of an ongoing commitment to gain an audience throughout the Great Lakes region. Tom Henry, a Toledo Blade writer and a November 2010 addition to the Echo staff, writes a monthly column, often touching on environmental issues that affect Ohio and its environmental identity. Gary Wilson, another columnist, chips in from Illinois. By publishing writers passionate about environmental issues in their respective communities, the Echo is finding a way to give readers a more personal connection to environmental coverage.
In order to generate more interest from readers that are not as well versed about the environmental news scene, the Echo is also employing smart, edutainment style multimedia. The “Cool Stuff” section of the site features videos of MSU students tending to raptors in a rehab center and an animation on deer mice migration. One of the most popular features is the Carp Bomb Gallery, in which the Echo invites readers to Photoshop images of the invasive Asian Carp into settings where they don’t belong. (Poulson hints at future plans to parody NCAA March Madness by setting up a tournament that allows readers to vote on matchups between invasive territorial species, to see which would be most harmful to the Great Lakes.)
The Echo believes that putting a lighthearted spin on serious environmental issues helps readers better appreciate environmental news. Poulson likened their strategy to satirical TV programs, saying, “People say that they get their news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but they really don’t. They get an appreciation for news.”
In the future, Poulson hopes to attract funders beyond traditional journalism foundations. Given the site’s niche focus on environmental issues, he sees potential for additional funding from nonprofit organizations that want increased coverage of health issues and the environment. Although student contributions will remain a crucial aspect of the site, Poulson also hopes to continue to add career journalists to the staff. When CJR’s Curtis Brainard interviewed Poulson via e-mail in 2010, he wrote of the need to bridge “the gap between what journalism was and what it will become.” By publishing students and professional journalists side by side, the Echo does just that.
Great Lakes Echo Data
Name: Great Lakes Echo
City: East Lansing