This may be a tough time for journalists, in terms of getting jobs, making a living. But this is the best time in history for journalism, including science journalism. There is more of it than ever. And it is better than ever.
But ‘making it’ in this new media environment is not easy. Listen to the graduation speech that Robert Krulwich of NPR and RadioLab gave earlier this year at the Berkeley school of journalism, or read the entire transcript – this is how he ends:
And maybe, for your generation, the Trojan Horse is what you’ve got, your talent, backed by a legion of friends. Not friends in high places. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.
If you choose to go this way, you won’t have Charles Kuralt’s instant success. It will take time. It will probably be very lonely. A living room is not a news room. It doesn’t feel like one. You know you’re alone. And on the way, you might get scarily close to not being able to afford a living room.
But what I’ve noticed is that people who fall in love with journalism, who stay at it, who stay stubborn, very often win. I don’t know why, but I’ve seen it happen over and over.
So, here, for what it’s worth, ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2011, is my graduation advice. Some of you will say, “This is a fantasy. Pay this man no attention,” but hey, you invited me, so here’s what I’ve got:
If you can… fall in love, with the work, with people you work with, with your dreams and their dreams. Whatever it was that got you to this school, don’t let it go. Whatever kept you here, don’t let that go. Believe in your friends. Believe that what you and your friends have to say… that the way you’re saying it – is something new in the world.
And don’t stop. Just hold on… and keep loving what you love… and you’ll see. In the end, they’ll let you stay.
Friends in Low Places. I have seen it. A lot. Young, new aspiring science writers helping each other connect, network, get gigs and jobs. They keep each other alive, like hatchlings in an incubator huddling together.
They do not see each other as competitors, but as collaborators. The new media ecosystem is vast, there is plenty of room for everyone. If one writes an article that causes someone’s lighgtbulb to turn on – Hey, science is cool! – then everyone else profits: that is potentially another lifelong reader for all of theirs’ work.
With the economic crisis, among other factors, reducing funding for science and reducing the number of jobs in the traditional academic tenure tracks, the world of science education is changing. These days, the tenure-track job is the “alternative career” in science.
Awarding thousands of students a B.S. or M.S. or a PhD in science is a way to produce science-literate population – people who will take their skills and scientific thinking to other areas of life, to being better parents, or schoolteachers, or bankers, or elected officials. Once outside of the lab, they will want to keep up with the world of science, though not necessarily by reading scholarly literature – popular science writing may be more interesting years and decades after one’s graduation.
Many people with recently acquired science degrees and scientific training choose, as their vocation, science writing and journalism. On one hand, this is good – they know what they are writing about. On the other hand, they may have a problem, at least initially – they know what they are writing about too well, perhaps not being aware when they are using technical jargon. So they have to learn and to practice.
One way to go about it is to keep pitching to newspapers or science magazines until something, one day, gets accepted. Another way is to start a science blog and just keep writing and practicing and getting better until, with some help from one’s Friends in Low Places, their writing starts getting accepted for a monetary reward. Yet another way is to enroll in a specialized science, health or environmental reporting program in a school of journalism at a university, and get one’s skills, opportunities and yes, the friends to network with.
The generation of new, young science writers that is emerging on the scene right now is amazing. There are many wonderful new voices in the field. How can I help them network, get visible and get jobs?
One of the blogs on the network is specifically designed to help recent fledglings from an academic incubator experiment with journalistic forms for a year. Every July I will invite a few recent graduates from a science writing program to run a blog here for one year – they will be good friends with each other, same generation in the same school, living in the same town, working together and helping each other. They will have a sandbox here to do whatever they want, experiment with a variety of media forms: text, images, audio, video, data visualizations, animations, diavlogs (split0screen video dialogues), ‘explainers’ and more. Hopefully this year will be useful to them – practicing their skills in public, getting ready to take on more steady jobs in the future. This first year, this blog is Creatology, blog run by three recent graduates from the Science Journalism program at City University London. Next year…who knows? I’ll pick someone from a different school.
Another way I can highlight the work of up-and-coming science writers is to invite them to contribute a piece or two on our Guest Blog (or, if they are reporting from a research trip, at the Expeditions blog). If you want to pitch me a story idea, just e-mail me (or Direct Message me on Twitter, Facebook etc.).
I am in a position to help some j-school students more directly. I am currently on the advisory board of the Medical and Science Journalism program at UNC, and, starting in September, will be a Visiting Scholar in the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU.
But that is just two schools. I want to help them all if I can.
Thus, this blog.
Here, I will explore and highlight the best recent work by talented new science writers. I will interview them (and sometimes their professors). We’ll together discuss the current state of the science media world.
I will focus mostly on those who are currently hatchlings, still in the incubators: in j-school programs for science writing. But I will sometimes take a look at others, e.g., the fledglings who have recently graduated from such programs and are now starting freelancing careers on their own; the students in general journalism programs at undergradute or graduate levels who seem to be taking on science, health or environmental topics; as well as eggs: people who are just now trying to figure out how to get outside of their shells, perhaps blogging while still doing research in the lab, but eyeing a future career in the media.
How will I know where to look? This is tough – it will take a lot of detective work.
Ideally, each science writing program would have a single website where all the information is collected: description of the program, current and past students (with up-to-date links to their websites, blogs and portfolios), diligently updated lists of their recent published works, as well as a class site/blog.
Perhaps the very existence of this blog will force their hand on this – to make such websites available, so their students’ work can be easy to find and perhaps highlight here.
If you are a fledgling, hatchling or still-in-the-egg young science writer, you can always contact me via e-mail or social networks. If you are in j-school, perhaps you can organize your fellow students to put together a cool website that collects all of your information and work in one place.
For now, these are some of the sources I have accumulated – please let me know (in the comments, or by contacting me directly), what I am missing:
Nature’s Scitable blogs
Ohio U: College Green.
Edinburgh U: Eu:Sci
cross-institutional, US.: Journal of Young Investigators
Any others? Let me know.