A U. of Montana research scientist and Nature Conservancy senior scientist adds to his portfolio as Science and Environmental Contributor for CBS News.

It’s the kind of partnership that likely would not have been considered by traditional broadcast news media standards, but in today’s evolving news media …

The arrangement has The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist, M. Sanjayan, named CBS News Science and Environmental Contributor, with the assignment to “provide insight” on a range of environmental and scientific issues for various CBS News broadcasts. Along with his affiliation with The Nature Conservancy, Sanjayan who lives in western Montana, has a faculty research appointment with the University of Montana’s Wildlife Program in Missoula.

One of the first pieces aired under the new arrangement was Sanjayan’s Saturday, May 19, commentary on the primetime “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley,” the network’s flagship news program.

“If you were born after 1985, you’ve never known what ‘normal’ is, because the last 326 months have been consistently warmer than the 20th century global average,” Sanjayan said in the two-minute/11-second segment. “You have, in short, been living on a planet with a fever.”

Sanjayan added that it almost no longer matters if the public understands or accepts the science on climate change: they are responding to its impacts in myriad ways, such as moving livestock to cooler and wetter regions to escape the droughts, wildfires, and heat that have plagued parts of Texas in recent years.

“This is our society’s sink or swim moment,” Sanjayan concluded his commentary.

Here is CBS’s official announcement of the new partnership:


M. Sanjayan, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, has been named Science and Environmental Contributor to CBS News. In this role, Sanjayan will provide insight into a broad range of scientific and environmental topics across multiple platforms and contribute to CBS News broadcasts, including CBS THIS MORNING and CBS EVENING NEWS WITH SCOTT PELLEY.

As lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy, Sanjayan specializes in human well-being and conservation, wildlife ecology and environmental education. He travels extensively to assess conservation efforts and wildlife protection needs across the globe. His scientific work has been published in journals including Science, Nature and Conservation Biology and has also received widespread print media coverage, including Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, Outside and The New York Times.

Sanjayan’s broad-reaching television experience includes co-hosting documentaries for BBC, Discovery Channel, PBS and National Geographic TV, including his critically acclaimed 2010 four-part series, Powering the Future, on the Discovery Channel. Filming on his new series for PBS and National Geographic TV begins this year.

Sanjayan is a sought-after speaker with recent appearances at TED Global, International Women’s Forum, Aspen Environment Forum, Aspen Ideas Festival, Clinton Global Initiative and the Summit Series. He is a Catto Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a senior advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative.

Sanjayan holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has a research faculty appointment with the Wildlife Program at the University of Montana. He is an avid fly-fisherman in Western Montana, where he lives.

For some died-in-the-wool traditional journalism ethicists, the Sanjanan/CBS News relationship no doubt raises concerns along the church-and-state lines: the need to separate news from advocacy, notwithstanding Sanjayan’s pieces being labeled as commentaries.

But respected journalism scholar and author Philip Meyer, recently retired from the faculty of the University of North Carolina, says he sees things differently.

“It looks like a good fit to me,” Meyer wrote in an e-mail when asked his view of the new collaboration. “Sure, he’s an advocate for protection of the environment, and there are political forces that would rather protect the private profits gained by disrupting the environment, e.g. fracking to get natural gas.

“But the simplistic model of giving equal weight to all sides, no matter how ridiculous, has been obsolescent since the 1950s when [then U.S. Senator] Joe McCarthy used it to manipulate the press. Everybody’s an advocate for something, and that is best controlled by transparency.”

Meyer added that Sanjayan “is not a hired gun offering his skills to anybody who can pay for them. The Nature Conservancy is a highly visible, non-profit, public interest group that tries to slow mankind’s persistent destruction of our planet. By bringing its chief scientist aboard, CBS News also serves the public interest.”

That’s a perspective, Meyer acknowledges, that likely is not shared universally among media watchers and press critics.

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