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 • 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 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 • 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 • 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?
Wanting to leave the lab / academia is a wrong reason. You have to want to be a writer.
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 • 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…. • 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 • 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…… • 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
Thanks. Any questions?