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Getting the Science Right in the Black Press – Making Headway with @EbonyMag

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Why did I come so hard and so fast?

1. It was 5:30 in the morning and I wasn’t falling asleep anytime soon, and had my tethers raised.

2. I figured I’d make my points on Twitter – mainly correcting the science of the narrative and making a case for why reporting science accurately in the Black Press to Black audiences is imperative.

3. I didn’t expect Ebony Magazine to actually respond.

This last point I really want to expand on. You see, it is a very frustrating thing being a minority scientist. And believe it or not, the folk who I (and many others like me) spend the most time fussing and fighting with are people from our own communities who look like us.  That has been my experience with ‘Old-school Black organizations’ like Ebony/Jet Magazine, The Church, Civic Organizations, and Social Justice/Civil Rights Organizations.  As important as they have been and are for representing people of color and serving the African-American community, they haven’t always been the most progressive when it comes to listening to Generation X/Y-ers.  They just haven’t. And science education and medical research has been one of those sticky widget conversations that has felt like a battle to me. So, I came puffed out, with my armaments on and ready to hold fast.

In the end, headway was made – quickly, too – before breakfast. And Science won! It’s just a start, but maybe it will be enough to get the editors and folks in the back room to thinking:

  • Hey, maybe we should run parallel science pieces that explain the topics we’re reporting! A side-by-side box explaining how Depo-Provera works would have been a sweet piece of subtle health science news for this article. (low-hanging fruit) OR

A scientist can dream, can’ she?


And dream I must. Seemed the tweets about this topic were still trickling in and the person behind the Twitter account of Ebony got a little put off with me. Wound up being a multi-hour discussion that I thought was going well and then, not so much.

Let me put it this way, I read Ebony Magazine my entire life. My grandmother has stacks of magazines hiding in the garage and attic that go back the 1950′s. (I ain’t lying!) So, I get what Ebony means. I’ve always wanted to get Ebony Magazine’s attention, but this isn’t exactly how I saw it happening in my head. Guess, I’ve caused enough trouble for the day.

I’m too tired to storify round two, so here is the quick and dirty:

1) I called Ebony Magazine out for an inaccurate headline – they got the science wrong.
2) They changed it but didn’t change how they pushed it out.
3) I used the story as (more) evidence for why better science coverage is needed in Black Press – something I blog about A LOT.
4) I thought we were done, but then Ebony Mag came after me for Airing out greivances with Black Press on Twitter and not going about the proper channels (whatever those are, because I really don’t know, which is also a point)
5) I make the point that
a) yes I have tried to get action on this topic -Science & Black Media for MANY years, gotten no where
b) there isn’t a place – professionally – for scientists and journalists to mingle and interact and get this conversation started, hence why I & others have hit a wall for so long
6) They kindly remark “Why havent’ you started your own STEM website?” to which I have a side eye. I don’t know what they think my blog at Scientific American is. <_<
7) My lovely Stans jumped in..Thank yall! and had my back asking pointed questions about Science coverage
to which Ebony said “We aint never got a science pitch from none of yall! Never ever! Seriously, they tweeted that not a single desk editor have ever been a science story, ever!
9) They said they would accept science pitches and shared the email of how to do so digitally.
That’s the good part, but it just got really icky along the way.

You can check out my Twitter stream of the exchange if you like.

The great news is that they say they are very open to Science Pitches. Straight from them: digital pitches can be sent to I am loving this, so I am encouraging everyone to pitch science-related stories to them. Everyone!

But I am also concerned that I have pissed them off good that my interests/efforts get Black Press to cover science more thoroughly will not happen. I wasn’t trying to antagonize them, at least not in this way. I wanted it to be about the scholarship of information sharing, why science vs. journalism boundaries must be removed.  I’m just hoping they aren’t so smarted by this (or any other organization looking on, say National Association of Black Journalists that I’ve been trying to reach, also) that they dismiss the conversation that is long over due: The need for science in the Black News room


DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. evelynjlamb 3:45 pm 02/6/2013

    Wow, congratulations on making that change! It is important to get the headlines right, especially on stories that are read by people who don’t read a lot of science stories. It’s too bad that their social media person was a bit bent out of shape, but hopefully they will accept some science story pitches from you and others.
    I too am a bit surprised that they responded to your tweets. If I bothered to complain about bad science reporting in Cosmo, I would never think they’d actually listen to me. (I’ve never read Ebony, so I’m using Cosmo as the comparison because it was brought up in the Storify. Sorry if it’s not a good comparison.)

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  2. 2. SciFleur 3:17 am 02/7/2013

    Great post DNLee! It was pretty eye-opening to see first-hand and in real time the problems with science in black media, which you blog so much about. Way to be both persistent and respectful in getting your point across. It’s good to see that both paid off with the corrected title. And awesome job in opening an avenue for potential science pitches to Ebony and other black magazines. I look forward to seeing what effects this twitter exchange has on Ebony’s science coverage.

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  3. 3. Pauli 11:03 pm 02/10/2013

    What’s wrong with putting them on birth control? Didn’t we just have an election that was for many people about whether we have the right to church-funded birth control? Why give them Depro Prevera as opposed to birth control? Because they can’t use regular birth control, for some reason. We need more of that stuff here. A third of our pregnancies are due to “broken” condoms and women “forgetting” to take their pills. I think it would be great if we lowered our birthrate. Great for the taxpayer, great for planet, and great for the poor Americans themselves.

    Link to this

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