Dennis Dimick has focused his journalism career on the collision between human aspiration and the planet. The son of fisheries biologists, Dimick grew up on a farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and he holds degrees in agriculture and agricultural journalism from Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his 35 years at National Geographic, he served for over a decade as the magazine’s environment editor, and guided major projects on climate change, energy, freshwater, population, and food security. Dimick is co-founder of Eyes on Earth, a project meant to inspire a new generation of environmental photographers.
As a young man, Dimick witnessed firsthand the price of progress when his family’s farm was cut in half by the construction of an interstate beltway. This invasion of their farm, in addition to the clear-cut logging of nearby forests where Dimick had spent his youth, combined to sensitize him to the profound impacts of human progress on the Earth. Early photography experience and his personal connection to the effects of human progress led to a life and career spent combining these two dimensions.
In anticipation of hisparticipation in the 2018 Wisconsin Science Festival, I asked Mr. Dimick some questions about photojournalism, and what it’s like documenting the human impact on the environment. Some of his answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
When this blog goes live, I’ll be on my way from Chicago, IL, to Raleigh, North Carolina, for Science Online 2013. (Okay I lied, we moved the blog live early…soon I’ll be on my way from Chicago to Raleigh.)
Last year was my first experience with Science Online, the unconference that brings together scientists, science writers, journalists, teachers, and students of science from the far reaches of cyberspace for face-to-face conversations about science communications, science, statistics and all sorts of topics.
How do you prepare for an unconference that sucks up bandwidth like a group of nine-year-olds devour Halloween candy? You bring lots of electronic gadgets and their chargers. You scope out your hotel room for electric sockets, immediately upon entering. You also bring your watercolor pencils or markers for any “science scribing” you may be doing, because Science Online is a tech conference that blends science with art beautifully, and Perrin Ireland will be back leading a sketch noting workshop and capturing many of the sessions as a “science scribe”. Her workshop was one of my favorites last year, and sketch noting is something that I have applied several times over to my work at Promega.
You bring comfortable shoes and clothes, because this is a meeting where you put ideas to work, and conversations require energy.
In April I had the privilege of attending Science Writing in the Age of Denial, a conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that featured science writers, journalists and scientists from around the world discussing some of the perils, pitfalls, challenges and amazing opportunities of covering science, medical and health stories in today’s media landscape. I reveled in the two days of intense discussion.
My notebook from the conference is filled with notes, sketches, web addresses to visit and names of books that I simply must read. One of the talks that hit home hard was given by Gary Schwitzer, a consumer healthcare journalist who is publisher of the web site HealthNewsReview.org
Schwitzer’s talk, “Cheerleading, Shibboleths and Uncertainty” addressed the status of consumer healthcare reporting which, in his opinion, often tends to be little more than “cheerleading” for the latest greatest drug, technology or screening test. His talk addressed some of the cult-like following for screening tests (the shibboleths) and the tendency to convey with certainty the “upside” of screening without discussing adequately the risks or downsides (uncertainty).