"CRISTINE RUSSELL: What happens at the intersection of media and science?"
Russell is a senior fellow inthe Environment and Natural Resources Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Environment and Natural Resources
When Cristine Russell chose nuclear energy as the topic of the third seminar in the Belfer Center spring series, “Clean Energy and the Media," no one knew of the radioactive disaster that would unfold in Japan. Two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami crippled reactor cooling mechanisms at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the seminar's discussion with scientists and journalists provided valuable insight at a critical point in the crisis.
Russell’s discussion with science reporters Matthew L. Wald of The New York Times, ABC News’ Ned Potter, and Belfer Center Associate Professor of Public Policy Matthew Bunn provided a nuanced look at the media’s coverage of the disaster. Russell's unique authority to comment on the media's nuclear crisis coverage stems from her earlier reporting on the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear disaster for The Washington Star. “Suddenly I was on a helicopter and I was headed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I rented a car and – looking back on it I can hardly believe it – I drove straight to Three Mile Island, straight to the cooling towers,” Russell said in a recent interview.
Except perhaps for her jaunt to Antarctica, most of Russell's careerhas taken her to less dangerous, though no less important, destinations. She is a former national science reporter for The Washington Post and appeared frequently on PBS’s Washington Week in Review. Today, she is a senior fellow with the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program, a contributing editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, and has been actively writing about the Fukushima nuclear crisis as a correspondent for The Atlantic online.
Russell is also the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, a distinguished group of journalists and scientists dedicated to improving science news coverage for the general public. At a time when scientific research – from stem cells and evolution to climate change and renewable energy – demands an informed public for crafting policy, Russell’s work focuses on how the news media can facilitate this demand given dwindling newsroom budgets.
As evinced by Japan’s troubled nuclear plant, the intersection of the media and science often occurs in unexpected and sometimes tragic ways. Russell’s ability to assess and adjust to new developments – be they measured breakthroughs of scientific research or desperate attempts to ward off nuclear disaster –distinguishes her as a leader in her field.
In June, she will be speaking at the World Conference of Science Journalists 2011 in Doha, Qatar, which aims to build relationships between journalists from around the world. Due to another historic world event in Egypt, the conference has been relocated from its original site in Cairo.
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