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.
Hello, welcome to the SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
Hi, and thanks for asking me to do this, Bora! I grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., the home of the Tennessee Volunteers, deep fried pickles, and a quick drive from the Great Smoky Mountains. So, if I’m honest, it was quite the shock moving up to the concrete jungle that is New York City. Somewhat regrettably, I sound more like I’m from New York than Tennessee, so you’re just going to have to take my Southern roots on faith.
How did you get into science writing?
Well, I’d like to say that it was a long strange trip, but unlike many of my colleagues and classmates, it wasn’t. I always knew that I wanted to go into journalism.
My freshman year of college at the University of Tennessee I started taking media classes fully expecting to run around the country writing about rock stars. But fortunately (or unfortunately), I fell in love with science instead.
I took a writing internship designing and developing content for the microbiology department’s newsletter, and it turned out to be the single best decision of my young life. Somehow I convinced my too-cool boss, Steven Wilhelm, to take me to Beijing to cover a conference, and I was hooked. I loved seeing the weird relationships scientists had developed with each other over the years, clashes of personality, and of course, the rivalries. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, if there’s a career that lets me observe this for the rest of my life, sign me up!”
So, with the help of an amazing professor and mentor, Mark Littmann, I learned how to write about science well, and I haven’t looked back since. Now scientists are my rock stars!
Why did you decide to attend a specialized science/health/environmental writing program instead of a generalized journalism or writing program, or just starting a blog and hoping to break into the science writing business?
Oddly enough, I did apply to a couple non-science writing specific M.A. programs, but none of them wanted me! I think they knew I was too focused on science, health and the environment to succeed in a general journalism program.
The way I see it, SHERP (Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU) is a fast track to the jobs and career I want. I could have decided to just slog away at it on my own, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to move to New York City.
Most importantly, however, NYU provides me with a safe space to fail. I feel like I’m free to make mistakes, poke around and see what I like. That’s invaluable when you’re first starting your career, especially in an intense profession like journalism.
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?
I really should be blogging, but I just haven’t found the time yet. I’m pretty active on Twitter, even though I used to rail against it, and I use Facebook to keep up with old friends.
I love using social media to promote my work and the work of others. All of my classmates have active Twitter lives, so it’s always fun to see how many people tweet your work, and how often we tweet about each other.
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?
Oy, I should just post my resume! Last summer I interned at Oak Ridge National Laboratory writing press releases in their communications office, but my current internship with Popular Mechanics is a little more in line with my SHERP training. I’ve been writing stories about everything from how researchers investigate the core of the Earth to a slideshow on a new museum exhibit and a bunch of stuff in between.
Last semester I produced a video with my classmate, Kelly Slivka that ended up being featured in the New York Times. I’m still not quite sure how we pulled that off, but it was an incredible experience. We had the best time editing and shooting.
I’m not sure if this counts as “professional,” but I’m probably most proud of a blog I wrote for Scienceline.org (our student-run science news site) about the recent passage of an anti-evolution bill in my home state. It felt great to know that I could write articulately and honestly about something so personal, while still contributing to the discussion as a journalist.
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?
I think that there is so much more transparency within science media today. We all tweet. Everybody blogs. Journalists—science journalists especially—are really starting to put their writing and reporting processes on display, and I think it’s fantastic. Gone are the days when a journalist can keep their process a secret. The Internet puts it all out there.
Some people are concerned that citizen journalism will eventually overpower the “real” journalists on the web, but I don’t think that’s fair. As professionals, journalists write and report on a different level than anyone with a blog and a part time job could. There’s room in this interconnected world for everyone!
Personally, I think this might be the most exciting time to be a journalist. Nobody has any idea what the media landscape will look like in the next year, and sure, that’s some terrifying, shaky ground to stand on, but it’s also incredibly freeing. We can literally do anything we want. We, as young journalists, have the unique opportunity to change our profession to fit our needs and the needs of our readers. How many other people can say that?
No, Bora, thank YOU!
Previously in this series: