CAP2010 Astro 101 School - Day 3 (2010 Mar 12)
Prof Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan (UCT, ZA)
Prof George Claassen (U.Stellenbosch, ZA)
Writing for the media: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How
Start with the lead that answeres the 5 Ws+H, add extremely important information, then the very important information, then less important stuff, then follow with stuff you have left.
Constrains of the media:
- time: short deadlines, immediacy, NOW
- lack of perspective on and understanding of science
- limited space/seconds or minutes
- superficiality: celebrities vs substance
- scientific jargon not tenable in popular media; accessible writing always important
Dr Carolina Odman (Leiden Observatory & UNAWE)
Energetic Christina Scott ("Science Matters" (SAfm), associate editor, science: Mail & Guardian; ZA)
Scientists' concept of time is not the same as journalists' concept of deadlines
Scientists' concept of accuracy is not the same as journalists'
Academic language is not South Africa's twelth official taal...
Scientists' sense of the intended audience doesn't match the demographics of the country. At all.
Scientists understand graphs and journalists do not
Science journalism is about translation: (1) English is not the language of science (2) Understanding is the language of science.
We could choose another beat: actually, covering science the way we cover sports is not such a bad idea. Lots of pictures, lots of action, emphasis on teamwork, feel-good studff when we win.
Science reporting = sports reporting? After all, scientists represent our country, the same way that our athletes do. And we're really good in some fields of science.
Media assess science stories based on where you were born, where you studied and where you live or work. If you don't tell them this information, the story goes into the black hole.
Most media do not assess science stories based on whether it got into Nature or not.
One possible solution: use a stopwatch
- I often draft the rough outline of a story while I'm trying to track down the researchers
- I do not allow scientists to insist on a face-to-face interview
- I do not allow publicly funded scientists to say no to an interview... unless they're giving birth.
- I normally refuse to spend more than five minutes in an interview
- I often spend five minutes beforehand explaining who, what, when, why.
- I often spend five minutes afterwards repeating the information back to the scientist to see if we are on the same planets, and getting every single contact number
- I read the story back to him/her. Then we fight. Then we publish.
- And I always, always ask dumb questions! Science is too big to know everything.
nothing more to see. please move along.