LA Times Reporters Receive Public Communications Award

Garth Hogan
Washington, DC – March 26, 2007 - Los Angeles Times reporters Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling have been named recipients of the 2007 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Public Communications Award. Their 5-part series, "Altered Oceans," was a result of their 18-month investigation into human-caused microbiological changes that are creating a biological imbalance in the world’s oceans.


The award recognizes outstanding journalistic achievement in increasing public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of microbiology. It carries an honorarium of $2,500 plus travel to the ASM General Meeting, May 21-25 in Toronto, where it will be presented.


The series explains how humans, through overfishing and waste dumping, have created a situation of “evolution in reverse,” where primeval life forms, like algae and bacteria are multiplying at an alarming rate from basic nutrients that are being dumped into the ocean, while their natural buffers, competing sea life and wetlands, are being diminished. Judges called the series "just beautiful," and a "superbly told story, deeply researched." The series, pictures, videos, and graphics are available online at


Weiss, who received his bachelor’s degree in folklore from UC Berkeley, has been a reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times since 1990, covering the California coast and the world’s oceans for the last five years. For “Altered Oceans” he spent more than 18 months traveling around the world, interviewing experts, and immersing himself in scientific literature.


McFarling spent six years working for the newspaper’s science desk, covering earth science with a particular focus on climate change. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University and a master’s in biological psychology from UC Berkeley.


The “Altered Oceans” series prompted hundreds of readers to write letters to the editor, send emails or post comments at a discussion forum on the Times’ website. Reader interest was so great that Weiss is currently working on follow-up stories detailing how individuals and governments can ease the stress on the seas.


Judges for the award were Colin Norman, author and Science Magazine News Editor; Maggie Fox, Editor in Charge of Health and Science for Reuters; and Alicia Mundy, Washington bureau for the Seattle Times.

The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California and distributed throughout the Western United States. With a weekday readership of 2.2 million and 3.3 million on Sunday, it is one of the largest daily newspapers in the United States.


The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 43,000 scientists and health professionals.   ASM’s mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.