- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Cristine Russell: From Typewriter to Twitter

  • Jacqueline Tempera
| Spring 2015

Connecting the Climate, Energy, and Media Dots

For Cristine Russell, a senior fellow in the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program (ENRP), life is turning full circle.

She started her career in Washington D.C. writing about science, environment, and health issues. Now she’s on the academic side analyzing the work of her peers. She’s a female journalist, who now hosts discussions on the influence of women in science media.

She was once a biology student at Mills College, but now stands at the front of the classroom at Harvard Kennedy School, lecturing on public policy controversies in climate, energy, and the media—the focus of her Belfer Center work. At a time when climate change denialism is as pervasive as the common cold, she says accurate information and education is more important than ever.

“The Internet explosion made it possible for everybody to be a communicator,” Russell says. “These ideas, even if they’re false, can be spread virally in a way that was not possible in the past.”

Russell is working to beat back against this misinformation— whether by hosting guest lecturers in class, organizing panel discussions, working with science journalism groups, or writing informative pieces in the Columbia Journalism Review.

“It’s an interesting niche,” she says. “I look at trends in terms of coverage and the language and am able to do a lot of commentary and analysis.”

“These are topics I felt I needed to go back to,” Russell says. “Many of the old problems are back, only exacerbated by the online world.”

Women, for example, are still underrepresented at the top of their professions. Russell is co-organizing an April 2 panel at HKS on “Sexism, Science, and Science Writing: Promoting Women Leaders in the Lab and the Newsroom.” She is also organizing an international panel on this topic for the World Conference of Science Journalists, to be held in Seoul, Korea in June.

“We need to keep having these conversations,” Russell says. “That way we will see change.”

Russell says the technology revolution has influenced her career in many ways. When she started in daily journalism, she had to borrow a source’s telephone or find a phone booth to call in dictation for a breaking story. Now she, like many, has multiple devices—smart phone, tablet and laptop—to stay in touch. Social media allows her to connect with individuals in her field around the world.

“I’ve gone from typewriter to Twitter,” she laughs.

Russell says she often scours the Internet in an attempt to stay abreast of climate, energy, and health issues, particularly the controversies that dominate much of today’s political discourse.

“I’m online hunting and gathering information that applies to teaching and outreach,” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

In 2006, after a career in freelance writing and reporting at The Washington Post and The Washington Star, she did a semester-long fellowship with the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Russell extended her stay at the School as a Belfer Center/ENRP senior fellow and also teaches an HKS course on “Controversies in Climate, Energy & the Media: Improving Public Communication.”

“It’s a wonderful mix of academics and practitioners who are all interested in the real world,” she says. “I love it here.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Tempera, Jacqueline. Cristine Russell: From Typewriter to Twitter.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2015).

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