Editing, Journalism

The quarterly ‘news’

What makes news news? You’d have thought this was fairly simple, but two projects have had me wondering what makes proper news these days.

Wellcome News, the Trust’s main magazine, is published quarterly and every few months I’m tasked with writing the copy. Because of the nature of print deadlines (usually a couple of months before the actual publication date to allow for copyediting, proofreading, design and printing) this often involves writing about things that have yet to happen, meaning that at the time of writing there isn’t much to say about it. This also means that by the time the audience reads about it, the ‘news’ often took place months before.

Meanwhile, as the News Editor of TSR, it’s my job to deliver news articles for the newsletter’s quarterly issue — ‘news’ that more often than not happened months before (do you see a pattern here?). We usually try and do some kind of ‘overview’ or analyses, rounding up the coverage of a particularly big science journalism/communication issue, but really, in the world of 24 hour, real-time information, who wants to read about stuff that already appeared everywhere months ago?

Continue reading “The quarterly ‘news’”

Journalism

The ‘news’ – four months late

I was just catching up on Nature’s blog coverage of the ‘mobile phones prevent Alzheimer’s disease‘ story, when this paragraph leapt out at me:

In the study – which was originally released in September last year but has only just been press released – researchers exposed mice genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s and un-modified mice to the electromagnetic field generated by standard cell phone usage for two one-hour periods a day.

Yep, the study was published four months ago, but only made the headlines this week because of a press release.

Now, this isn’t new. I come across this all the time in my day job — we’re often sent press releases from universities or research institutes about papers that were published up to six months before. But you might wonder why this happens.

Continue reading “The ‘news’ – four months late”

Uncategorized

I love bookmarking

Back when I used to work at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, our office used to look something like this:

Too much paper!

Well not really. But not far from that.

Because of its mission to ‘examine ethical issues raised by new developments in biology and medicine’, the Council is constantly scanning the latest developments in all sorts of areas, from nanotechnology to GM crops, personalised medicine and stem cells. As such, it subscribes to a huge amount of scientific journals, magazines and newspapers.

Back in the day, one of my duties was helping to keep track of all this. The Deputy Directors, Research Officers and Press Officer would scan through every publication and mark on a little sheet what was worth keeping on file for future reference. Then I would disappear into the photocopying room for hours on end, making copies of each article and filing them in hundreds of paper files hanging all over our office. It was boring, tedious and absolute madness.

Such a thing would be unthinkable today, just five years later. Why would you make copies when practically all articles are available to view anytime online? And why have hundreds of files when you can use web bookmarking tools like Delicious to tag the link to an article, with as many tags as you like, all searchable and sortable in seconds?

Today I bookmark and tag practically every interesting thing I read, which helps no end when I find I need to revisit a topic for research (though admittedly my tags need a bit of pruning). I’m thankful to my old job for this useful habit, but thank goodness I don’t have to sit around in the photocopying room by myself anymore.

writing

Positive thinking negative?

I just read this feature article (actually an extract from a forthcoming book) in the Guardian Weekend magazine. In it, Barbara Ehrenreich hits out against the ‘positive thinking brigade’ that surrounds cancer, and indeed most major illnesses or calamities.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but it’s an interesting piece. The article focuses on cancer, but is actually about the perceived ‘American’ positivity that is being peddled — backed up by bad science — in society. Ehrenreich points out several contradicting studies and features accounts from different people who have had little benefit from positive thinking.

Continue reading “Positive thinking negative?”

writing

Improving as a science writer

With the onset of a new decade, many people’s minds have naturally wandered back to ten years ago and just how much can change in such a relatively short space of time.

Back at the turn of the millenium I hadn’t a clue that there was anything in science outside of the lab bench, yet alone had an inkling that I would one day be working in that sphere. I’d enjoyed a History of Science module at undergraduate level and had a hunch that people were doing something like it somewhere — somebody had to be writing those non-academic paper pages in Nature. Nevertheless, none of my undergraduate tutors had a clue how I would get into it. ‘Do a PhD’ they said. Fat chance.

I’ve been in science writing, or science communication, for over five years now having stumbled rather than launched myself into it. In a way, I envy those that are entering the field now. The opportunities, the training and the support networks available are extraordinary. But the more people that enter the already burgeoning ‘SciCom’ field, the more those of us who are in it have to step up our game to keep up.

I once read that a wise man realises he knows nothing, or something along those lines. There are many times when I have no idea what a researcher is saying to me, let alone how I am going to explain this in 500 words. And like any writer, I always feel I can improve on my craft.

What keeps me going is the inspiration I get from my peers work. I learn by reading, watching and listening to the extraordinary discoveries being made every day in science and technology, and analysing how my fellow science communicators explain it in a compelling, beautiful narrative.

I hope to highlight some of these works in this blog, as well as the occasional thoughts on events and news that I come across. Today, the internet has more science blogs than you can shake a stick at (if you can shake a stick on the interweb). I’ve often wondered what I could possibly contribute to that. But with this blog, I’ll attempt to get off my arse and find out.