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Cynthia Barnett Co-Authors Behind-the-Scenes Article on Fertilizer Investigation by Missouri and Florida Student Journalists

Cynthia Barnett, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Environmental journalist-in-residence and senior lecturer, is the co-author of “Missouri, Florida Journalism Professors Join Classes on Multistate Fertilizer Investigation” published on on Sept. 6.

Barnett and Missouri School of Journalism Associate Professor Sara Shipley Hiles collaborated to build a course for journalism students to report on the cycle of fertilizer and its consequences from the phosphate mines of rural Florida to the farm fields of the Midwest, down the Mississippi River and to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone.”

The result is the five-part multimedia series “The Price of Plenty” created by a team of 18 student journalists in a 16-week advanced science and reporting class and published in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Columbia Missourian and on UFCJC’s WUFT News in June 2023.

The series features 18 in-depth stores on timely issues including soaring fertilizer costs, the 2023 Farm Bill, an analysis of the industry’s fossil fuel emissions and the vulnerability of its mines, plants and huge waste mountains to extreme rains and hurricanes and the hunt for rare earth elements in Florida’s phosphate mines.

Barnett and Hiles received funding for the multi-state fertilizer investigation from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting Connected Coastlines climate reporting initiative to cover travel and other expenses.

According to Barnett, “For us, the project felt like peak teaching: using our years of journalism experience and connections to give students the challenges and opportunities they needed to finish college with a major work of explanatory reporting.”

“Coordinating a team of two dozen across two time zones, we set our class times to overlap for an hour one day a week. We scheduled expert speakers over Zoom and assigned readings to give students a foundation on fertilizer and how other journalists had covered it. We built a suite of shared tools, including Google folders, a data repository and an active Slack channel. Working across geographic areas wasn’t hard; it helped students think more expansively about their stories and reach beyond their own regions for experts,” writes Barnett.

Barnett adds, “If we could do it over, we’d plan a yearlong senior capstone experience, rather than a one-semester class. The six weeks remaining after spring break were an uncomfortable crunch that had us both at our desks every weekend. Follow-up reporting, writing, editing, fact-checking and production ramped up as the end-of-semester deadline neared. Almost all the students were graduating seniors, so the stories had to get done. One thing we wouldn’t change is our partnership.”

Posted: September 7, 2023
Category: Alumni News, College News, Science Communication News, Student News
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