- Assignment: Be prepared to answer the questions I ask in this session.
- Assignment: Browse my Web site.
- Assignment: Prepare for the final assignments.
- Readings: Recommended but not required readings that should be available at the library by the time of the class include Jon Franklin's "Writing for Story," William Blundell's "The Art and Craft of Feature Writing," Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson, and Robin Marantz Henig's "A Field Guide for Science Writers: The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers," and S. Holly Stocking's "The New York Times Reader: Science & Technology."
- Everyone will introduce themselves by name and what they study or studied in college.
- I'll talk about what I do now and what I did after college to do what I do now. I'll also talk about what I love about my job.
- Everyone will talk about what they would like to write, and why, and what they like to read, and why.
- I'll ask for general knowledge of science — what scientific journals they know, and whether they have ever read any journal articles.
- I'll talk about my goals for the class — to sharpen the skills of those interested both in writing and in science, and to help them analyze research and present findings in an interesting, readable way for general audiences or specialized readerships or both.
- Everyone will talk about their goals — what they want after college, and what they want from this class to help them right now and later in life. Do they want to pursue science, journalism, science journalism, or do they just want to learn more about science journalism and how it's made?
- Assignment: Bring science writing stories that you enjoyed to class and prepare to talk about what you enjoyed about them.
- A discussion of what the class thinks major science news outlets are. How do they read science news?
- What outlets does the class read (e.g. the Science Times, Wired News, BoingBoing, Yahoo! News)? What kinds of stories they enjoy (e.g. short news, long features, analysis, snarky blogs)?
- An examination of science new outlets, including newswires such as LiveScience, daily sites such as Wired and Discover, newspaper sections such as The New York Times' Science Times, specialized magazines such as Scientific American and New Scientist, news sections of scientific journals such as Science and Nature, specialized journals such as The Scientist, and blogs such as those by John Hawks. Although the daily, weekly, monthly, front-of-book and back-of-book distinctions mean less than they used to, they are still often very useful — the amount of time and words a writer has can greatly affect the structure of the story, the number of sources consulted, the voice and the level of analysis expected. The importance of readership will be stressed as well.
- An explanation on where science news most often comes from — major journals such as Science, Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS); press release sites such as Eurekalert, AlphaGalileo and Newswise; medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEMJ); other journals such as those from Cell Press, the Royal Society, the Public Library of Science and the American Physical Society; conferences; and expeditions to the field and labs.
- A discussion of the differences between the journals.
- A breakdown of the subtle differences between science, medical, health, environmental, technology and science policy journalism. A list of major sources of science news will be provided.
- An exploration of the embargo system that major science news often relies on.
- An exploration of the major press release systems from Science, Nature, Eurekalert, Newswise, the Public Library of Science, Cell Press, the Royal Society, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the medical journals and others.
- A discussion of how science journalism differs from regular journalism. This includes the technical knowledge involved, the fact that even knowledgeable scientists can't know everything about science, the embargo system instituted to help science journalists do the best job they could, the fact that a great deal of science journalism is done over the phone and email, the fact that sources at times are allowed to read drafts, and the fact that scientists often want to help journalists.
- Assignment: Read a number of very different science news sites, such as The New York Times' Tuesday science section, Science magazine, Nature magazine, Wired, Scientific American, New Scientist, Science News and LiveScience.
- Assignment: Browse Eurekalert.
- Assignment: Read the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.
- Assignment: Compare different stories on a single piece of research from several very different outlets, and read the journal article in question, as well as the press release and any commentary on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.
- We'll browse through press releases and journal articles for interesting material, as well as keeping a skeptical eye toward pseudoscience.
- We'll dissect what makes a given discovery most exciting, summarizing a story to one or two sentences at most.
- What is newsworthy? What tells you something interesting about the world that you did not know before?
- We'll discuss pitches to editors, taking into account where it will appear — daily or monthly publication, technical or general audience, long or short, and voice of an outlet. What might be right for one outlet might not be right for another.
- Two examples of pitches will be provided, one for a daily news site, one for the science news section of The New York Times.
- Assignment: Write a pitch for a daily site.
- Assignment: Write a pitch for The New York Times.
- Assignment: Find a dubious or sub-par press release or two.
- We'll dissect a press release, scanning through material for newsworthy tidbits and prioritizing their importance.
- We'll dissect a journal article. We'll look at the abstract, the contributors and their order, the introduction, the materials and methods, the results, the discussion, the thanks, and the citations. Always be sure to tease out the most fun details, as well as things you don't understand or want elaborated.
- We'll find sources for outside comment. We can ask the sources, look in their paper at the thanks and the citations, and use broad Google and more specific site:XYZ.com searches.
- We'll find context for a story. We'll use Wikipedia, Google, news stories, academic and government sites, past studies, review articles, books, encyclopedias and more. It is also important to know as much about a topic as possible to ask informed questions and to appear at least somewhat knowledgeable in front of scientists.
- Basic caveats will be mentioned, such as not relying overly on Wikipedia and the rest of the Internet.
- Assignment: Find sources for outside comment using all methods.
- Assignment: Prepare a list of questions to ask me for today's press conference.
- We will write a story in class. We'll dissect a press release and a journal article, drum up a lede and an outline, plug in quotes and details, and figure out what questions to ask.
- Based on the preliminary story we have written, we will discuss the questions journalists most often ask scientists.
- I'll discuss the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when and why) and how, as well as other tips.
- I'll discuss how to write as much of a story before an interview as possible, so as to give an idea as to what best to ask researchers.
- I'll discuss how one might best navigate around jargon.
- I'll discuss how to interview unhelpful sources.
- I'll discuss basics of interviewing etiquette, such as calling people by their first name and getting their contact information and correct spellings of names.
- In the end, we will practice a press conference, where I play the role of a researcher and you ask me questions.
- Assignment: Write a breaking news story of unlimited length for a general audience.
- Comparisons will be made between the stories that students wrote and the stories that actually appeared in the media.
- We'll talk about story structures such as inverted pyramid and the Wall Street Journal feature model.
- We'll talk about how one uses different structures depending on the outlet and section one writes for.
- We'll discuss key elements of stories such as nut grafs, ledes, transitions and kickers.
- We'll discuss no-nos such as starting off stories with quotes.
- Students will be asked to take the stories they wrote for the last class and propose how to rewrite them with second-day structures and feature structures.
- It can often be harder to write short than long.
- The most common type of science news article, and the one I have prepared you for, is the one based off a scientific discovery. The basic formula for such a story mentions 1) the results and their significance; 2) where and when the findings were announced; 3) the affiliations of the researchers; 4) the context of the discovery; 5) the research methods; 6) any important caveats or qualifiers; 7) independent comments; 8) ethical issues, if any; 9) future directions the research might go in.
- There are many other science news article types. For instance, you might summarize the most interesting details from a meeting. You might write explanatory or overview stories. You might do Q&As, narrative interviews, or profiles of scientists. You might write about the science of current events. You might prepare listicles or "news you can use" service journalism. You might report on trends. You might even delve into narrative journalism.
- Assignment: Write a second-day story of unlimited length for a general audience.
- Assignment: Write a story of just 150 words for a general audience.
- Reduce the clutter in your writing. Space may not be limited on the Internet, but attention spans still are. Start general and get more specific later. Use short titles for researchers if possible. Do not include every researcher in the story.
- Use vivid language. Try delving into all of the senses. Use active words if possible. Consider the judicious use of simile and metaphor, as well as colorful turns of phrase.
- In general, start with the familiar and move to the unfamiliar.
- We'll talk about George Orwell's six basic rules for clean writing, as well as five amendments to those rules for more creative writing.
- We'll talk about how to figure out what questions and tensions drive stories to tighten up nut grafs and improve the structure of the arguments at the hearts of stories.
- We'll talk about Choi's first rule of journalism. This is that journalism is meant to show readers things they could never see by themselves — the halls of power, war zones, intimate moments, a person's thoughts, and in the case of science journalism, the distant past, the far future, remote galaxies, the insides of atoms, and places that might have been but never were.
- We'll talk about how feature writing techniques are driven by characters.
- We'll talk about immersive writing techniques that aim to place readers inside stories and characters.
- Assignment: Should you let scientists read a rough draft of your stories beforehand? Provide pro and con arguments.
- There are some givens when it comes to ethical behavior from journalists. Do not plagiarize others. Do not fabricate details or stories. Do not let your personal biases influence your story if possible, and let your editors know if there might be conflicts of interest before you begin your assignment. In addition, science journalism has ethical considerations of its own.
- Beware of research that has not yet gone through rigorous peer review. It helps if the research appears in a respected peer-reviewed journal, but the peer review process is not perfect, and suspect research can make its way through. When in doubt, consult experts in the field for independent comment. Keep an eye out for questionable methods, reasoning and interpretations.
- Know the difference between causation and correlation, and do not confuse one with the other in your stories.
- Beware of research that is hyped. Beware of "science by press release." Do not report exaggerated claims.
- Do not exaggerate or distort research to make for a more interesting story. Do not raise expectations too high as to what the findings might deliver. Caveats and qualifiers are important. The word "might" is often your best friend.
- Find out just how novel a finding is. You might have written about something very similar already.
- Beware of conflicts of interest that researchers might have. For instance, where do they get their money from?
- Just as reporters should not plagiarize or fabricate stories, so too should reporters be on the lookout for research that is plagiarized or fabricated.
- Should you let the scientists you interview read a rough draft of your stories beforehand?
- Some research is especially politicized nowadways. Be cautious when reporting about evolution and climate change. Read comments sections on these stories to understand what kind of response you might draw.
- A basic understanding of statistics is probably very helpful in all avenues of life. Know what a standard deviation or sigma is.
- Assignment: Prepare a list of places you would like to work.
- Final Assignment: Present a profile of a researcher at school.
- Final Assignment: Present options for continuing science writing at New College.
- We'll discuss places to look for internships nearby.
- We'll discuss whether to go to journalism school or not.
- We'll discuss what the workplace is like for staffers and freelancers, and what various outlets are like.
- If we have time, we'll go on a field trip to learn how to read a scene.
- If we have time, we may go out and interview a real scientist about their work.
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