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Write or Wrong: Leaving science to write about it. Nell Greenfieldboyce. What is a science writer. Science writers translate jargon into clear, easily understood explanations

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what is a science writer
What is a science writer
  • Science writers translate jargon into clear, easily understood explanations
  • Science writers find interesting stories and share them with an audience, either general public or more specialized audience
  • Science writers usually have a background in science, but not always
  • Why we need them: listen to this.
where do science writers work
Where do science writers work

Newspapers and magazines

Online/web-based publications

Public Information Outlets

scientific societies, universities, companies, nonprofits, government agencies.

Radio and TV and movies--documentaries

Museums and science centers

Book publishers/science journals

Their living rooms—freelance and contract work

hack vs flack
Hack vs. Flack
  • Newspaper reporter
    • Jobs hard to get
    • Hours unpredictable, pay variable
    • More watchdog, investigative role
    • Serve the public through critical eye
  • Public Information Officer
    • hours are more regular, jobs plentiful
    • Benefits/pay usually good
    • You represent your organization to the world
    • Close relationships with scientists at your org
ask yourself are you
Ask yourself: Are you
  • Already writing?
  • Deadline oriented--no joke
  • Seriously attentive to details, like spellings of names
  • Pathological insistence on factual accuracy. You double and triple check.
  • Good listener—people confide in you?
  • But you are also thick skinned—both to professional rejection and people getting mad at you
  • Do people gather round to hear your funny stories?
  • Do you see every side of an issue?
  • Do you talk about science with NON-SCIENTISTS?
  • Do you like to READ…about science and other things too?
  • Do people tell you that you are a good writer?
how to get started clips clips clips
How to get started:Clips, Clips, Clips
  • Science writing masters program
    • Johns Hopkins, Santa Cruz, New York University, etc.
    • Or, journalism schools like U of Maryland
  • Internships
    • AAAS mass media fellows (deadline in January)
    • National Association of Science Writers
    • DC Science Writers Association
or get clips on your own
Or get clips on your own
  • Find small news / features outlet and email a “pitch” to the editor. Do it for free or almost nothing
  • Use those small clips to get gigs at slightly more prestigious news organizations.
  • Online is great for getting clips. Places like ScienceNOW, Geotimes, etc.
my path
My Path….
  • Biology degree quickly abandoned for history of science/social sciences degree at JHU
  • MA program at JHU in science writing
  • Two brief internships: JHU PIO office and UPI
  • Staff job at Clinical Laboratory News—newspaper ad
    • Published by American Assoc. for Clinical Chemistry
  • Freelanced clips get internship at New Scientist
  • Freelanced clips help get U.S. News & World Report gig
  • Did some teaching at Johns Hopkins MA program
  • Hard times hit the print world.
  • Freelanced a radio piece, applied for NPR gig.
  • MY START: MA program, internships, freelancing to small pubs
david kestenbaum path
David Kestenbaum Path
  • Physics major at Yale, worked at Fermilab in the summers
  • Entered Harvard physics graduate program.
  • Girlfriend dumped him for a writer (as he tells it)
  • Freelanced to Chicago Reader, on guy who talked at Fermilab
  • After getting PhD, didn’t do postdoc, did freelancing
  • Did AAAS mass media fellowship at WOSU, a radio station in Ohio
  • Science magazine gave him an summer internship
  • Went and did that 4 days a week. Day 5 he spent freelancing at NPR HQ
  • Science wanted to hire him. He spurned them. A year later, NPR hired him, in 1999.
  • HIS START: Freelancing to small pubs, fellowship, internship
it looks so easy but
It looks so easy, but……
  • I sent out a lot of freelance pitches that fell into the void
  • I applied for internships that I did not get
  • I applied for jobs that I did not get
  • I tried to write stories that just did not work
  • I wrote some terrible stories, deadly dull
  • I had scientists yell at me because they hated something I wrote about them or their work
  • I had scoops ruined for one reason or another
  • I dealt with all kinds of horrible ethical issues that come up in reporting
  • I applied for awards that I did not get
  • I felt sometimes like a writing robot and that my job was utterly pointless and a waste of my life
          • other times I felt like a hero


Any questions?