Whatever competitive edge accrues to a Freedom of Information Act request could soon vanish as seven federal agencies start putting records online as they're distributed to FOIA requesters: "Of course, it has always been possible to scoop other journalists digging through government documents," Poynter's Benjamin Mullin writes. "But this new policy will eliminate some of the guesswork involved in figuring out what rival publications are up to."
One of the biggest challenges that science writers face is explaining complicated technical matters without bogging down their stories, Carl Zimmer writes in a guide to keeping them lively: "The most important step in explaining something well is to figure out what’s the minimum amount of explanation required for readers to understand your overall piece." Zimmer writes. "You can then try to make your explanation as delightful to read as the most unexpected plot twist."
On Nieman Storyboard, Peter Slevin discusses writing his biography of Michelle Obama, including how he built a network of sources who gave him insight into the First Lady's early life: "The outreach to prospective sources seemed endless, and it did not always bear fruit, but it forced me to crystallize my thinking. What was it again that I was hoping to accomplish? Where, exactly, did this person fit into the narrative? What was the most valuable question I could ask?"
Tabitha M. Powledge writes about the overly credulous coverage of a questionable claim that signs of life have been found on the comet where Philae landed: "This claim of cometary aliens is one of the finer examples of the story that’s too good to check. So most of the persons who wrote the initial reports failed to look even briefly into the recent activities of one of the claimants." Also, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his big plans for brain-to-brain communication.
Jonathan Peters discusses a half-dozen court cases in which the government has sued someone who filed a public records request. The cases could have a chilling effect, Peters writes: "In some of these cases, the government feared being sued itself, and initiated litigation to try to force the court to decide whether the records were public. Still, in each case, there was a risk that the free flow of information would be chilled because of the government’s actions."
Cambridge, Mass., isn’t simply the home of top research universities like MIT and Harvard. Acre for acre, the Kendall Square area around MIT boasts the highest density of academic, corporate, and startup R&D activity in the world. The Brookings Institution calls Kendall Square “today’s iconic innovation district.” All of which makes it the perfect setting for ScienceWriters2015, coming to MIT Oct. 9-13. Also, NASW and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing will host the 10th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in fall 2017 in San Francisco.