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Friday, January 22, 2021

Environmental journalist Warren Cornwall becomes advisor for the Planet magazine

Warren Cornwall will start as advisor for the Planet magazine this fall. // Photo by: Sarah Climaco

Starting his Fall, there will be a major change happening within Western Washington University’s The Planet magazine. Huxley College of the Environment professor Rebekah Paci-Green will be retiring as the magazine’s faculty adviser and previous Seattle Times environmental journalist Warren Cornwall will be her replacement.

  

Cornwall grew up in Boise, Idaho, and had always been interested in political issues and writing. Although he has become an environmental journalist, he graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, with a degree in government.

Prior to coming to Western, Cornwall worked at newspapers for most of his career. Starting at a weekly paper in central Idaho named Post Register, Cornwall went on to write for a daily paper in eastern Idaho named Idaho Mountain Express and then came to the Everett Herald for two years. Most recently, Cornwall was an environmental journalist for the Seattle Times, where he worked in their downtown office covering environmental issues.

One article that Cornwall was fond of was an article he wrote on the struggles of a Spokane Indian tribe coping with uranium pollution on their reservation from years of mining. Although it wasn’t a well-known issue, Cornwall says he “found their lives and their situation very compelling.”

Another article written by Cornwall, titled “Should Grizzlies Be Restored to the North Cascades?”, focuses on the government studying whether or not grizzly bears, which are almost extinct in the Pacific Northwest, should be brought back to Washington State.

Grace Wang, a professor at Western’s Huxley College of the Environment, knew Cornwall from outside the university and happened to run into him while both were picking their children up from school. They began discussing their different jobs and Wang ended up giving Cornwall’s name to Paci-Green.

Although finding Cornwall was completely unexpected, Paci-Green immediately knew that Cornwall was the one for the job after talking with him. According to Paci-Green, a couple of other people were interested in the job opening, but Warren’s experience and skills secured him the position. Cornwall’s experience as a professor at the University of Washington also was a contributing factor.

“Warren writes beautiful environmental journalism pieces for Nature, National Geographic, Science and more,” Paci-Green said. “He knows the field and he’s tried out teaching before. It was an obvious choice.”

Craig Welch, a former colleague of Cornwall’s, also believes that Cornwall is the right person for the job. He describes Cornwall as a very kind, smart and affectionate man who always wants to do the right thing. According to Welch, Cornwall is the kind of guy who wants to save the world, and he believes that journalism is a “key ingredient of what makes the world a better place.”

        

“When I heard that he was being considered for this particular job, I couldn’t think of anybody who could be better for it,” said Welch. “I would love to do what he’s doing, but I think that he’d be better at it than I am because he’s just a solid human being and a solid journalist all the way through.”

Along with being a “solid, stand-up dude,” Welch believes that Cornwall will be a great fit for this job due to his patience and calm demeanor that has developed through having two kids of his own. In times of crisis, Cornwall doesn’t get “rattled,” as Welch put it.

According to Yvonne Worden, editor in chief of the Planet, as adviser Cornwall will have to act as a mediator when there are disagreements among the staff about the paper; especially when time is running out and the magazine needs to be sent to the publishers.

Having been recognized as a national finalist in both the 2013 and 2014 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards for best student magazine, The Planet has fared well under Paci-Green’s advisement. Worden believes that they just have to carry that momentum forward and they will be fine.

Both Worden and Paci-Green believe that Cornwall will help the students writing for The Planet in many ways.

“Warren has written for the New York Times and all of these big publications so I think he can bring a really great storytelling element,” Worden said. “If anything, it’ll breathe more life into it.”

According to Paci-Green, she can’t wait to see how the editors and staff “blossom under his advising”.

“I think Warren will bring both in-depth knowledge of environmental policy and science issues and a clear reputation for making these issues compelling to a general audience,” Paci-Green said.

Along with breathing more life into the paper and helping staffers find the story, Welch knows that the students are going to learn all of the right things from Cornwall. According to Welch, in journalism, many seem to think that all you need to know is how to take a photograph or shoot a video. In reality, you just need to know how to treat people.

When asked what he was looking forward to the most, Cornwall replied enthusiastically with: “Oh, working with the students!” After sitting in through many classes during the quarter when Paci-Green was teaching, Cornwall was impressed with how sharp, energized and devoted the students were.

His main goal as working as adviser is to make sure The Planet remains a “high-quality, student-run magazine and a vibrant class.” With all of his experience as a journalist, he is sure that he will play a role in making day-to-day decisions about the magazine’s directions, but wants to make sure that the students are the ones really in control.

“I think it’s important that the students have a lot of control over the magazine,” Cornwall said. “People learn when they are given both independence and responsibility, while being asked to meet high standards. From what I have seen so far, the student leaders at the magazine are a talented and passionate group.”

The Planet is in need of more reporters in the fall. Worden attributes the loss of reporters to many of the student staff graduating and not enough students signing up to fill their places. Fortunately, however, Cornwall wants students to know that they don’t need to be journalism or environmental majors, but just have an interest in writing and the environment.

“One of my goals is to challenge the more experienced journalists to really push themselves in their reporting and writing, while giving novice journalists advice and resources that will help them get up to speed in a pretty short time,” Cornwall said.

According to Paci-Green, a colleague in her department is leaving and she will be taking over all of the department’s courses in disaster risk reduction. Due to time restraints in her schedule, she will no longer be able to work with The Planet. Paci-Green will miss The Planet, but not necessarily staying up late to edit the final copy. 

“I will miss so much about Planet – the insatiable curiosity of the editors and the intense debates we had,” Paci-Green said. “I will miss getting to learn about dozens of issues each quarter and being able to point to a stunningly beautiful magazine at the end of each quarter and say ‘we made that.’”

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