Crash course in scientific journalism.
August 30, 2008 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Crash course in journalism filter: I have a job interview for a scientific web-journalism position later this week. I have experience doing a wide variety of writing but have never done this sort of journalism before. Better yet, part of the interview involves a 45 minute test. I think this will test my journalistic skill. So does any have any crash-course in online journalism links, advice, etc?

I'm specifically looking for links to help write news-stories, writing press releases for research papers, making science accessible to the generally public etc.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
One of my favorite links for breaking science news is Eurekalert from the AAAS. Covers a lot of the latest in published science results.
posted by ptm at 6:38 AM on August 30, 2008

Not to be cynical, but there might not be enough time...

The test probably covers AP Style and possibly current events.

There's a lot to learn about the idiosyncrasies of AP Style, especially if you are used to other grammar/style rules. Here's some basics:

Purchase a copy of the book (maybe look into getting the online copy for time reasons)
What the book is/does
Basic rules (this is only a brief summary by far)
posted by PixelatorOfTime at 7:00 AM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

The company I work for does some web-based journalism on various technical subjects. Our test for writers is usually nothing more than "write us a short sample story." We want to see if you "get" the subject matter enough to at least select a story relevant to the audience, and we want to see that you have at least passable grammar.

The best way to prepare for that sort of thing is to go online and read as much as possible of our past work.
posted by meta_eli at 7:21 AM on August 30, 2008

PixelatorOfTime is jumping the gun a little.

Since it is a "scientific web-journalism position" (whatever the hell that means) they probably won't be as concerned about AP style as a print outlet. (You still should know what AP style is, be able to talk about it, and point out that many web-only pubs are moving away from it...)

Not sure to tell you what to do about your test - a lot depends on the scope of the position which you haven't really told us about. Will you have an editor? Does this operation require scholarly or academic level work? Or are you writing puff pieces?

Science writing is a discipline unto itself - so you shouldn't try and fake it. Rather play up your reliability, timeliness, your respect for deadlines, and your understanding of the broad scope of what the company wants to accomplish.

You should be able to rattle off a few pop-sci publications that you keep up with. (Fake that, if you have too - New Scientist is a good start.)

You should be able to talk about formats for your field. I write in political science, so I use (mostly) a modified Chicago-style called Turabian. You should familiarize yourself with whatever writing standards there are out there for science journalism. This page looks like a good start.

Your prose will possibly matter a lot too. Generally journalism outlets are looking for tight, punchy, and efficient writing regardless of the subject. Get a copy of The Elements of Style. In the interview say, "Oh yeah, I never leave home without my Strunk and White." Then nod knowingly.

Good luck, come back and let us know how it goes.
posted by wfrgms at 10:38 AM on August 30, 2008

I'm taking a course this semester on this very subject -- here's the course syllabus -- you might find it useful to look through the exercises here. This is an old version -- the new version is behind Blackboard.
posted by peacheater at 11:03 AM on August 30, 2008

Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to sound discouraging; I am used to the people around me (other students) preparing for print journalism internships/jobs. wfrgms is right that I overestimated and if this is not a huge high profile web site (CNN, NYTimes, etc.), the test(s) won't be super complicated/hard.

I can recommend Telling the Story as a very good reference [text]book. It covers the convergence of print/web/broadcast in terms of writing and organization and has tons of tips about writing all different kinds of news articles.

Take a look at peacheater's syllabus to get an overview, and then read up on some other basic journalism principles, like the Inverted Pyramid, even though its usage is changing. There's a good link in the Related Questions section about this, though you may have more experience to begin with than that asker.

Good luck. Science is terribly underrepresented in news coverage, so I wish you the best.
posted by PixelatorOfTime at 2:27 PM on August 30, 2008

Spend some time on the Poynter site - you will be glad you did...Everything you need, or links to it, are there. Good luck to you!
posted by mad_little_monkey at 6:15 PM on August 30, 2008

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