I want to be a science journalist

When I tell people I’m majoring in journalism, the next thing I say is, “But I don’t necessarily want to be a journalist.”

Wait. I don’t?

I say I don’t because I’m scared I can’t be one.

I say I don’t because I don’t want to have to defend myself, yet again, arguing there are jobs for journalists.

I say I don’t because not only do I want to be a journalist (there I said it, I actually do want to be one), but also because I want to be a science journalist.

But I don’t even know what I mean when I say that.

Do I mean write for science journals? Do I mean write for science magazines? Do I mean write for a newspaper or website that has (or probably doesn’t have, but I would try to create) a science section?

I say science journalism because I like writing and am decent at it, and I like science and am (was) decent at it. I say science journalism because there is a lot of cool and useful stuff going on out there that scientists aren’t necessarily sharing or don’t have the means to share.

I used to think being a science journalist was only about making science accessible, breaking down difficult concepts into relatable terms. For example, explaining the life cycle of schistosomes that cause swimmer’s itch.

But being a science journalist is more than that. It’s like any other type of journalism. You have to investigate. You have to report.

“There’s probably no field of journalism that’s less skeptical, less critical, less given to investigative work, and less independent of its sources than science reporting.”

That’s a line from Michael Schulson’s article in Pacific Standard magazine critiquing science journalism. People took trouble with that statement. And though it is harsh, and isn’t true for absolutely every science journalist, I see truth in it.

Some science journalism pieces make the connection between science papers and studies, without making the connection to how it affects people. Others oversimplify the science or don’t bother explaining the science.

So what do I want to see?

I want to see science coverage in mainstream outlets.

Few Canadian newspapers have science sections. (From Science Culture: Where Canada Stands)
Few Canadian newspapers have science sections. (Image from Science Culture: Where Canada Stands)

And if there’s no dedicated section, then I’d at least like to see in-depth coverage regularly. And there are people doing that — Carl Zimmer, Torah Kachur, and Rose Eveleth to name a few. But I also want to see this locally.

So what has to change?

I plan to start a creative non-fiction science-themed project in fall, and when I looked into where I could pitch stories for publication, there weren’t many options. There are science journals. There are science magazines. But there’s nothing local, besides the general science stories in newspapers from time to time.

I think for starters, I have to start owning up to who I want to be and what I want to see in science journalism in Canada, so I can be a part of the change.

So yes, I am majoring in journalism.

Because I want to be a journalist.

And more specifically, I want to be a science journalist.

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