The Science Writer

However, for the most part, reporters at major meetings and events are science writers, experienced in covering medicine, science, and engineering. To scientists in increasingly narrow fields, such a responsibility may seem quite broad but, on most newspapers, this beat is considered high specialization.

Of the many kinds of specialized writers, the science writer has a unique responsibility to the reader. Unlike the sportswriter, for example, whose reader already knows, often in extraordinary detail, the rules of the game and who the players are, science writers must often introduce readers to a new "game" with every article. Imagine if a sportswriter had to assume readers had no knowledge of football every time he or she had to write about the latest NFL game.

Science writers also have a sometimes difficult job of teasing out details and anecdotes to produce an evocative article, video or radio segment that will draw a casual reader or viewer into a topic they might not at first care much about.

The science writer must first understand the science, often the toughest part of the job. Then the writer must write it — frequently within the hour — translating it accurately into a form that is both interesting and intelligible to the layman.

Science writers tend to be among the most conscientious of journalists. However, they are writers first and not scientists. Good science writers do their best to report accurately, but they always keep in mind what they think will interest the public — which may not be what the scientist thinks should interest the public.

Good science writers read omnivorously — newspapers, books, reports, journals and internet news groups. (The science editor of a New York City newspaper estimates that he scans "58 different magazines a month, 250 news releases, and 40 letters a week.") They attend conventions of scientific societies, where important news is often announced. They interview many scientists for stories. They may travel to Antarctica, watch the Space Shuttle blast off or visit a nuclear accelerator. However, they are also responsible for the routine of regular checking with sources at laboratories, factories, hospitals, universities, and government agencies.

They are not all newspaper reporters; in fact, the majority are not. Some work on staffs of national magazines and internet news services. Others write for special-interest medical and scientific publications. Many are free-lancers, reporting and writing for a variety of media. And some work in broadcast media, ranging from network radio television news programs to science documentary production companies.


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