Published: Jan. 22, 2019 By
Photo by Hillary Rosner

The CEJ Scripps Fellowship has been bringing award-winning environmental journalists to CU Boulder for 21 years. Fellows embark on a year of courses, projects, field trips, seminars and more — taking advantage everything university life has to offer. This five-part series features each of the talented journalists in this year's cohort, taking a closer look at what drives them as journalists and what they think about environmental journalism today.

Hillary Rosner is a freelance journalist and editor. She has traveled the world with her writing, from Borneo to Kenya to here, the American West. She is a two-time winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Award, even acting as speaker for this year’s AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award Lecture at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Her most recent project was published in the December issue of National Geographic and explores whether the world’s most in-demand vegetable oil — palm oil — can be sustainably harvested.  


Why did you choose to cover environmental topics and is there any memory that stands out as formative in your decision?

I slowly became more interested in enviro topics as I was working for a variety of publications in NYC. There wasn’t one event, but I recall a growing desire to be out in a rainforest somewhere, reporting on the strange things that were happening to the natural world as a result of human activity. I remember sitting at my desk at the Village Voice reading the Yale School of Forestry course catalog. I briefly worked for a startup called that covered the media industry, and I also recall sitting at my cramped desk there, thinking, “Why am I at Inside when I should be outside?”

What do you think is the most important environmental story happening today?

Climate change is the obvious answer. But just as important — and all the more important because of climate change — is land-use change. How we are converting forests to pastures and plantations and farm fields, paving over prairies, polluting waterways, fragmenting what little habitat remains for some species.

Where do you find inspiration for the stories you tell?

People! I’m often inspired by the scientists and conservation professionals I meet who are champions of a particular place or species. Without champions, we are nowhere. One of my favorite stories I’ve done involved a couple of scientists getting toward the end of their careers. They had spent decades working to save an endangered fish that was worse off than when they started. But they refused to give up — or to give up hope.

What are your favorite things to do outside of journalism?

Inspired by the freedom the fellowship provided me, I recently started taking piano lessons. I took lessons as a kid but stopped when I was like 11, and for years I’ve been wanting to take it up again but never have the time. I’m loving it. Beyond that, I like to hike, do yoga, and spend time with my husband, son, and dogs. And travel in our camper van! Oh, and ski. Alpine and Nordic. Yay winter!

What is one rule or strategy of environmental reporting you find particularly important?

Make sure to recharge. Reporting on the environment can get seriously depressing, particularly in these dark times. I was feeling really down last summer, thinking about how much worse off the planet seems now than it did when I began writing about this stuff a decade and a half ago, and a Canadian journalist I met reminded me of the importance of bearing witness. That helped inspire me to keep going. It’s important to document what’s going on. Even if it’s just for posterity.