This is a series of Q&As with young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They – at least some of them – have recently hatched in the Incubators (science writing programs at schools of journalism), have even more recently fledged (graduated), and are now making their mark as wonderful new voices explaining science to the public.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, but I would later venture as far as the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Then, being a stoutly Midwestern girl, I promptly moved to a part of the country I had never visited, to live with a group of people I had never met, and to work for free for a year at an environmental news nonprofit. Five years later, Seattle, Wash., is still my home.
How did you get into science and how did you get into writing? And how did these two trajectories fuse into becoming a science writer?
I suppose I was always hurtling toward this conclusion, whether I knew it or not. Growing up, I either was playing in the woods behind my house or nosing my way through stacks of library books. I both attended middle school science camp and filled notebooks with epic poetry. Advanced Placement Biology and English were my two favorite high school classes.
When college rolled around, I chose to study environmental science instead of English, because I thought, I love science and besides, what would I possibly write about with my English degree? This way, I reasoned, I could always write about something I was interested in. And when graduation rolled around, “environmental journalism” were the only two words on my mind.
Why did you decide to try breaking into the science writing business without attending a specialized science writing program?
My last semester of college, science-writing superstar Carl Zimmer came to speak about evolution to a group of us science majors at Notre Dame. At this point, I had taken a couple journalism classes but still jumped at the chance to ask how an overeager science student could break into the field of journalism. His answer was simple and succinct: Just start writing. So, I did.
After graduation, I landed a year-long, volunteer internship with funny green news site Grist.org, and while it was a marketing and advertising internship, I wrote at every opportunity. Eventually I managed to write–and pun–my way into the editorial department (and even a paycheck!).
In 2011, during a travel fellowship for environmental journalists, I made a great connection in Becky Kessler, who wrote for Natural History Magazine. I’ve been freelance writing about up-and-coming science news for them ever since.
Along the way, I’ve asked many an editor about journalism schools of various types, and for the most part, they have assured me that my writing, more than anything, would be the best currency. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still fiddle with the idea.
How do you see the current and future science media ecosystem, how it differs from the past, and what role will new, young science communicators like yourself play in building it and making it the best it can be?
Science writers have a big job ahead of us. How do we explain the exquisite details of discovery about ourselves and the world to a popular culture with a 140-character attention span and little idea what “fact checking” looks like? In a time when glib, idolized science writers like Jonah Lehrer fall from repute and hand audiences ideas like the scientific method is broken when he continues selling his writing based on this faulty method?
Personally, I’m excited by these challenges and the opportunity to be a part of the medley of solutions. It pushes me and my peers: How can we capitalize on the incredible, exponential possibilities of the web? How can we be more creative with language, sound, and images to engage people? How can we more accurately represent the “big old mess” that is the scientific process?
What professional experience you have had so far – publications, internships, jobs? Feel free to include a bunch of links here! What is your current job?
These days I’m a Web Editor and Writer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where I run a blog and manage online content for an office in the National Ocean Service. Every month, I also write a couple science news briefs for Nature History Magazine. You can find links to some of these articles and a range of my other published work at ashleybraun.com/writing.
Of course, I got my start and spent a few years at Grist.org as a News Producer, blogging, managing the homepage, and leading social media efforts. Along the way, I’ve freelanced some stories at OnEarth.org and DeSmogBlog.com and even dipped into the flavorful joys of recipe writing. And I have learned something about science and environmental journalism–sometimes unintentionally–from every single experience, whether in an interview, a blog comment, or a poorly constructed paragraph.
Do you write a personal or science blog ? How much do you use social media networks, e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, YouTube etc., to promote your own and your friends’ work, to learn and to connect?
Twitter is my source of news, my cultural pulse, and my platform for shameless promotion of my and my friends’ work. (Twitter cyberstalking welcome!) I also use it to keep up with other journalists, both to stay in touch and be inspired by (and slightly envious of) all the fascinating things people are writing about these days. For the most part, I keep my Facebook presence personal. Pinterest is an aesthetic time-suck, but it’s rivaling my use of Delicious as a digital bookmarking site.
Where do you go to read good science writing?
Besides Discover and Wired, my new favorite place to turn is the blog The Last Word On Nothing. And I’m about to pick up Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.
Previously in this series:
Kristina Ashley Bjoran
Mary Beth Griggs
Amy Shira Teitel
Noby Leong and Tristan O’Brien