Science journalism is an exciting and important field, but it can be difficult to establish yourself as a credible writer on the science beat. Exploring science issues is a challenging task for a new journalist because finding the right stories and getting the facts straight are essential to making a name for yourself as a trusted science writer, which in turn will earn you more work in the field.
We’ve compiled a short list of tips for the aspiring science writer from several respected Canadian science journalists: Postmedia News reporter Mike De Souza, who covers energy and the environment; Postmedia News national science reporter Margaret Munro; and Canadian Science Writers’ Association president Stephen Strauss.
1. Write as much as possible
Even when you aren’t finding work as a science journalist, maintain a blog where you cover science issues regularly. Not only will this help you develop your skills as a science writer, but it will also be something to show prospective employers.
The best thing about this is that it will allow you to write on exactly the topics you find interesting, allowing you to become more knowledgeable about areas you love.
2. Learn where to find stories
One of the most daunting things to a new science writer can be learning where to get story ideas. The answer is simple: everywhere science happens. Make phone calls to government science agencies and universities, and cultivate friendships with scientists at nearby universities. When an important study is released, you’ll want to be the first to know.
3. Find a Specialization
You want to be a science writer because science is interesting to you, right? Well chances are that you find certain areas of science more interesting than others. As much as possible, write about the field that fascinates you. If your skills are comparable to other journalists, but you’ve become trusted as an environmental reporter, your story on an ozone hole or an oil spill is more likely to make it to publication.
4. Persistence is key
There are places to publish your science journalism everywhere. It may seem like the journalism industry is difficult to crack, but keep trying. If you have a story that deserves to be told, someone will take it. Keep finding great science and keep pitching stories, and eventually your stories will be told.
5. Ensure accuracy
The last point is perhaps the most important: learn to distinguish between good science and specious claims. Is there enough evidence to support what the scientist says? Has the study been peer-reviewed? It’s not enough for someone to have an official title at an organization; the science needs to be well-accepted before you can tell the public it’s true. Since you may not have a science degree or enough time to run experiments yourself, checking for peer-review is your first line of defence before proceeding with a story.
To read more on the difficulties facing science journalists, particularly in accessing government experts, check out my article “Silence of the labs” in the winter 2013 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.