One day during the winter of 2004, Jennifer Frazer logged on to CNN.com to see what was happening in the world. A brief article about elk in Wyoming dying after eating poisonous lichen caught her eye. She was intrigued, both as a graduate student in the MIT Program in Science Writing and as a self-proclaimed nut about what she calls, “weird, cool living things.”
“Lichens meet my criteria,” says Frazer, who studied mycology at Cornell University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2000 and a master’s degree in plant pathology two years later. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow. If I can only get a job in Wyoming!’”
After MIT, she did get a job in Wyoming–as the health and environment reporter for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, the state’s second-largest newspaper. She was so busy covering everything from coal and gas development to meetings of local health boards that two years passed before she got around to writing about the elk. Her two-part series traced the efforts of wildlife scientists and game wardens to learn what was causing hundreds of the animals to die slow, painful deaths. The series won a 2007 award for excellence in science reporting from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. One of the judges, Robert Lee Hotz of the Wall Street Journal, said Frazer “opens a window into the mysteries of field epidemiology, turning a story of doomed elk into a page-turner of a lethal botany and the consequences of ecology.”
As a newspaper reporter, Frazer says, she frequently drew on her experiences at MIT. A term project on cloud seeding, for example, informed her stories on the Wyoming state legislature’s funding of a $9 million cloud-seeding study. “I actually went back to the paper that I had written and did some background research before writing my story for the newspaper,” she says.
Frazer left the newspaper in late 2006 to become a science writer with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, which runs the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She writes online training modules to help television meteorologists throughout the country integrate environmental science reporting into their weathercasts. “It’s really focused on science,” she says, “and in a way, I still reach the public through the meteorologists.”