May 1, 2005


The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the winners of the 2005 AIBS Media Awards. The awards, established in 1995 to recognize outstanding reporting on biology to a general audience, are limited to nontechnical journalism, including print and broadcast media.

In the print journalism category, Tom Meersman, environment and natural resources reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, won for "Invaded Waters," which covered invasive organisms in the Great Lakes. The story was published in three segments from 13 June to 15 June 2004. The judges noted that "the story treats a complex subject but was nevertheless outstanding in readability, accessibility, and organization, and it made clear points about how changes in the environment affect habitat. It was balanced—environmental writing tends to be one-sided, but in this article the author provided context. The whole package was beautifully designed: an outstanding story complemented with excellent photography."

Meersman has been reporting on environmental and natural resource issues in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest for the past 25 years. He has worked for the Minneapolis Star Tribune since 1993, and before that he was a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, the headwaters of the Mississippi, and the western edge of the Great Lakes, so his coverage often focuses on water quality. Many of Meersman's stories involve new science about emerging issues, especially in natural resource management and in public health. They also cover legislative and budget priorities, and how transportation policy, agricultural practices, and energy use affect environmental quality.

Diane Toomey won in the broadcast journalism category for "A Little Known Planet," which was broadcast on 12 December 2003 on National Public Radio's Living on Earth, a series covering environmental news. The judges said that the story, which examines current attempts to discover and catalog all the living organisms on Earth, "used clear and simple language for a lay audience to demonstrate how complex the natural world is. It used natural sounds effectively, and did not rely solely on people talking, allowing the audience to visualize scenes. An elegant and eloquent program."

Toomey has been working in public radio for 13 years as a reporter, producer, and editor. Most recently, she produced a pilot for a new science show for Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Science Friday. She is now working on a start-up show covering issues of poverty and injustice, sponsored by World Vision, one of the world's largest humanitarian aid groups.

An honorable mention for print journalism was awarded to Elizabeth Pennisi for "The Secret Life of Fungi," which appeared in Science on 11 June 2004. The judges called it "a great story, an original idea. It shows that a skilled journalist and writer can take the smallest of living objects and make it interesting."

Since 1996, Pennisi has been a science writer at Science, where she began covering cell biology and the genome; she now focuses on organismal biology. She started her career in science journalism at United Press International, and along the way has worked for Discover, The Scientist, and Science News.

The judges for this year's competition are

  • Laura Helmuth. Laura Helmuth is the science editor for Smithsonian Magazine. She previously worked for Science's news department, where she wrote about neuroscience research and edited life sciences stories. She started out at Science editing the daily online news site ScienceNOW. She holds a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from the University of California–Berkeley and went through the University of California–Santa Cruz science writing program.

  • Dennis O'Brien. Dennis O'Brien has been a reporter at the Baltimore Sun since 1987 and has been writing about science for the past three years. Along with appearing in the Sun, his work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a number of other papers.

  • Debbie Schwartz. Debbie Schwartz is publisher of Connexions Communications, which specializes in environment and science news and features. Her work has appeared in the journals Wildlife Conservation, Environmental Science and Technology, and Chemical Innovation, as well as in newspapers and newswires.

  • Thomas Wood. Thomas Wood is assistant professor of integrative studies in New Century College at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He holds a BS from the University of California-Davis, an MS from Louisiana State University, and a PhD in environmental science and public policy from George Mason University. He works closely with research personnel at the National Zoological Park Conservation and Research Center, where his research interests involve conservation studies education reform and assisted reproduction in mammals.

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