Three Journalists Tell Scientists How the News Works

From a post on headlined “Ask a Reporter Anything: A Briefing for Scientists on How the News Works”:

Why wasn’t I quoted? Who wrote that headline? Is your deadline really in one hour? SciLine, a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), hosted a virtual “Ask a Reporter Anything” event, inviting scientists from all disciplines to hear from and ask questions of reporters and editors representing a range of media outlet types, including local, national, print, radio, and specialty science publications.

Journalists were in the hot seat, fielding questions from scientists and sharing their perspectives. In a conversation moderated by SciLine, attendees learned how day-to-day journalism really works, what a day in the life of a reporter looks like, and the professional expectations and challenges reporters face when covering science-related issues.

Jack note: The post is well worth reading but too long to try to summarize. The section headlines include:

How do journalists determine what topics to cover, and what do editors look for in story pitches?

Why are deadlines so short?

What is an embargo and what do embargoes mean for journalists?

How can scientists avoid having their quotes edited in ways that change meaning, and how can they fix errors, if they happen?

How do you find sources? And how often are reporters turned down when they reach out to sources?

Do local reporters focus on sources from universities nearby, or reach out more broadly?

Who writes headlines and why do headlines sometimes seem off base?

How does someone with a science background but little-to-no journalism experience pursue a career in science journalism?

How do reporters verify information and facts in stories?

What advice do you have for scientists seeking to convey uncertainty in science?

How should scientists prepare for a radio interview (as opposed to print)?

How do you determine if a scientist-source is credible?

What do scientists do when interacting with journalists that cause journalists to roll their eyes?

What do “on the record” and “off the record” really mean?

What are the best and the worst parts of your job as a reporter?

What makes for a great scientist interview?

How important is diversity among the sources you use in stories? And how do you find sources with diverse backgrounds?

What is one key thing scientists should take away from today’s discussion?

What is one key thing scientists should take away from today’s discussion?

The panelists:

Brian Grimmett is a two-time Regional Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist covering energy and environment stories across the state of Kansas for KMUW radio and the Kansas News Service. Brian loves to dive deep into complicated issues with the hope of making them easier to understand for general audiences. His curiosity about the world around him has driven him to be a constant learner. Before coming to KMUW and the Kansas News Service, Brian worked at KUER radio Salt Lake City covering the Utah Legislature.

Laura Helmuth is the editor in chief of Scientific American. She has been an editor for The Washington Post, National Geographic, Slate, Smithsonian, and Science magazines. She is a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s standing committee on the science of science communication, and she serves on the advisory boards of SciLine, High Country News, Spectrum magazine and 500 Women Scientists. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers.

Naseem Miller is senior health editor at The Journalist’s Resource, a project of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center. Prior to The Journalist’s Resource she was the senior health reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, where she covered the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting. In 2017, she helped start the Journalists Covering Trauma Facebook group to create a supportive space for reporters who cover tragic events.

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