When Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed Edward Snowden (via electronic avatar) for his podcast, the good doctor said a few times that he is not a journalist.
Yet the Knight Foundation and we at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism are giving Tyson the third Knight Innovation Award for journalism on Oct. 14. When I told him this, I anticipated his objection: “I’m a scientist, not a journalist.” That is just the point. In the larger information ecosystem in which news now works, Tyson provides an example to experts in any field for how to inject desperately needed facts and reasoning into a public discussion that too often lacks either. At a time when I argue that explanation itself becomes a journalistic specialty, Tyson again provides a model for how to bring complex subjects down to earth and relevance. As a media innovator, he has learned and exploited every new medium — from Twitter to podcasts — to use his celebrity to enlighten.
In any medium, Tyson uses clear explanation, humor, and blunt delivery of the facts to explain concepts and refute anti-intellectual arguments. On politicians debating global warming, he has said: “Now we have a time where people are cherry-picking science. The science is not political. That’s like repealing gravity because you gained 10 pounds last week.” In a two-minute YouTube video, he can explain the science behind climate change. In any lecture — like this one at ASU — Tyson demonstrates a journalist’s ability to impart knowledge through storytelling and to argue the case for art’s as well as newspapers’ impact on science.
I had the privilege of joining an episode of Tyson’s Star Talk show and podcast to talk about journalism. I know he cares about the future of the field.
So we are honoring Neil deGrasse Tyson at CUNY. At that ceremony, he will receive a $25,000 award from Knight and — here’s the cool part — he will have another $25,000 to give forward to a media innovator of his choice.
But wait, there’s more: We will begin the afternoon at 4 p.m. with a panel on podcasting led by Alex Blumberg, founder of Gimlet Media, and including Heben Nigutu of BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast, Manoush Zomorodi of WNYC’s Note to Self, and Greg Young of the Bowery Boys podcast.
There will be a limited number of seats open. If you, like me, are a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson and podcasts and journalism, then this will be a slice of conversational heaven. The details and sign-up are here.