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Benchley Pride

By Brooke Smith and COMPASS

May 17, 2013


Minute Read


This week we received a great honor. Nancy Baron and COMPASS were the recipients of a Peter Benchley Award, an award that celebrates outstanding achievements that lead to the protection of our coasts, oceans, and the communities that depend on them. We were awarded this distinction for Excellence in Media.

Nancy Baron, with shoulder-length blonde hair, stands behind a podium on stage in front of an audience at the Peter Benchley Awards. The large projection screen behind her has the words "Nancy Baron & COMPASS" written on a blue background.

Nancy Baron accepts her Peter Benchley Award for Excellence in Media. Photo by Brooke Smith.

Over a decade ago Jane Lubchenco, Vikki Spruill, Chuck Savitt, Mike Sutton, and others comprised a great brain trust that acknowledged the large gap between what marine scientists knew and saw, and what the public understood about oceans. How do we bridge this gap? The theory was – help scientists literally Escape from the Ivory Tower, and support them to develop the communication skills and relationships they need to share their insights with society.

Nancy was the first person hired by this new thing called COMPASS to figure out how to do this. A journalist and naturalist, she has spent the last decade pioneering approaches to bridge the worlds of scientists and journalists. If you’ve seen a story about ocean science in the popular press in the past decade, Nancy was probably behind it in some way.

Over the past decade we’ve grown our organization from our original hire to a team of 13 amazing individuals all working together to help scientists (and not just marine ones any more!) connect to traditional media, new media, policymakers and each other. Our work to connect scientists to other audiences has been inspired by what Nancy has innovated at the scientist/journalist boundary. She is a compass within our team.

I am grateful that Wendy Benchley, David Helvarg and the selection committee of the Peter Benchley Awards bestowed this award to Nancy Baron and COMPASS. It takes a team, structure, funding and support to pull off the great work we do – and our team is proud to be part of this recognition. To develop and succeed with our great media work and to realize the vision our founders identified, it took Nancy Baron… it took vision, journalistic instincts, scientific grounding, innovation, generosity, boldness, courage, leadership and a passion for science.

Thanks, and congratulations, Nancy for all you do for science, scientists, oceans, the environment, and our team!

It was fitting, or, as Nancy said in her acceptance speech, “poetic,” that our co-founder, Jane Lubchenco, presented Nancy and COMPASS with this award. Below are Jane Lubchenco’s remarks in presenting Nancy with her award:

More than a decade ago, Jeannie Sedgwick at the Packard Foundation challenged some of her grantees to figure out a way to infuse good marine science into public awareness and policy.  A new trans-boundary organization was the result—a bold new experiment to bring marketing and communication savvy together with stellar marine science.  And thus COMPASS was born.
COMPASS co-founder and former NOAA Administrator, Jane Lubchenco, presented Nancy Baron and COMPASS with the Peter Benchley Excellence in Media Award earlier this week. Photo by Brooke Smith.

A few key individuals deserve credit for growing COMPASS into the vibrant, effective communication organization it is today, but especially Vikki Spruill, Brooke Smith, and the incomparable Nancy Baron whom we honor today along with COMPASS.

With a great nose for a good story and a keen appreciation for getting the science both right and understandable, Nancy has cajoled, coached, mentored and challenged marine scientists to be more effective communicators.  Scientists of many stripes—recalcitrant to eager—have learned from the über-teacher, Nancy.  She taught them, in her words, to make the juice worth the squeeze and to escape from the ivory tower.

And with her wide grin and readiness to pour a glass of quality California red or white at the drop of a hat, Nancy has won over even the most cynical reporters, thus expanding quality coverage of oceans.  Journalists know when she says, ‘you should pay attention to this’ that indeed they should.
The bottom line? She’s earned the trust and respect of both scientists and journalists and brought them together—to the benefit of people and life in the oceans.

It is a special pleasure for me to recognize Nancy Baron and COMPASS with this year’s Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Media.

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