The Connection May 16, 2012
The Connection is the newsletter of the Medical and Science Journalism Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers will take place Oct. 26 to 30 in Raleigh. NASW expects up to 450 attendees to come from across the globe to network, pitch stories and get leads on the next big things in science.
Piggybacking on the NASW meeting will be the 50th New Horizons in Science briefings organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. The New Horizons sessions feature nationally prominent scientists who will present their latest work to journalists and others, including students from Dr. Tom Linden's medical journalism class who will both tweet and report on the conference.
The Triangle hasn't been home to the meeting since 1995 when Duke University hosted the CASW/New Horizons meeting. Back then the entire conference was held at the Washington Duke Inn, said Karl Leif Bates, director of research communications at Duke and member of the UNC medical and science journalism program's advisory board. Now, because of the large number of attendees, both ScienceWriters2012 and CASW/New Horizons will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center.
The conference will offer attendees day trips to Kannapolis' North Carolina Research Campus and Beaufort, N.C., home to the Duke Marine Lab, NC State's Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, UNC's Institute of Marine Sciences, and NOAA's Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research.
"We'll be bringing them through the gorgeous new RDU terminal, meeting at the new Raleigh Convention Center, staying in the three–year–old Marriott City Center, having a party in the super brand–new Nature Research Center museum. and visiting NC State's Centennial Campus," said Bates. "We expect them to be asking us about job openings."
Bates, who helped bring the conference to the Triangle, said this year marks the first time the conference is not being held at a single academic institution, but instead will be sponsored by businesses and research institutions based in the Research Triangle and also by local universities including North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"The incredible concentration of R&D in this region is what got us talking about it in the first place," said Bates. "That's the story we want to tell: North Carolina is a serious player now in both R&D and science communication."
By Kelly Izlar
"Ugh, I have to take a multimedia class?" I grumbled to myself last year. "I'm a writer. I need to be exercising my strengths instead of fumbling around with… equipment, or software or something."
In fall 2010, I was so out of touch with new media tools, I didn't even know what multimedia meant. I even tried to convince my adviser, Dr. Tom Linden, to let me substitute another class for Multimedia Storytelling. But (thankfully) he put his foot down, and I reluctantly joined the rest of my non–tech savvy classmates for an introduction to video, audio and graphics in the spring.
It took a few weeks to set in, but before spring break rolled around, I had caught the multimedia bug. Behind a camera, I began to notice new things about the world around me: how light slanted, if colors stood out, what was visually interesting and how to seek those things out. I even enjoyed editing.
When we began learning graphics, I really geeked out. It was like being in an art class — something I hadn't done in 15 years — only this time, it wasn't just about staying in the lines. With a few clicks of my mouse, a flat picture became 3D. Enter a few lines of code, and it moved. The pretty flowers I liked to draw as a 12–year–old could grow up from seedlings and pop out of the screen.
Best of all, these tools are invaluable when it comes to telling the story of science. By no means am I saying that graphics eclipse good writing, but it's my belief that the more ways science communicators can reach out to the public, the better. A good image can make a technically challenging concept easier to understand, and multimedia tools can hook uninterested people into a science lesson.
These ideas were swimming around in my head last summer as I helped staff at UNC's Morehead Planetarium develop a curriculum for a multimedia bootcamp for science communicators. By the first day of the fall 2011 semester, an idea for a thesis project had emerged... how visuals advance scientific understanding.
I've spent the past several months trying to blend scientific information with graphics and stories to make a case for increased incorporation of new visual tools into old ways of communicating and researching science. My only regret is I didn't find multimedia sooner.
Rose Hoban, former medical and health reporter for NPR–affiliate WUNC–FM, launched a health news website this spring, North Carolina Health News. The site features in–depth reporting on health and policy issues. Hoban says she hopes the site fills a growing gap in North Carolina's health journalism scene. Follow her on Twitter @NCHealthNews and @rosehoban. Hoban is a member of the advisory board of the UNC medical and science journalism program and answered questions submitted to her online by Stephanie Soucheray–Grell, a 2012 master's graduate of the program.
Q.You were the medical reporter for WUNC for several years. What made you interested in online news?
A. The web is such a powerful tool for storytelling! While radio is great, you engage one sense, and then there's the fact that things go by really fast for listeners. So, you end up simplifying stories a lot, and I was always wanting to give more context.
With the web, there are engaging ways of diversifying the ways people experience content. There are easy visual ways to represent data, phenomena, context. I know I'm just scratching the surface, but it's fun to try new things, and I'm getting to do that a lot now.
Q.What unique challenges/opportunities does covering health news in North Carolina pose to a local reporter?
A. The biggest challenge right now is that there's too much news and not enough people covering it! Full time health reporters at newspapers in N.C. are down to two, count 'em, two people, and a bunch of part–timers, no one in public radio and a handful of TV health reporters, most of whom cover health along with other beats. That's bad for listeners/readers/viewers.
But it's great for me. It means the field is wide open, and I can really dig in and own the beat.
But it's also a little overwhelming. How do you focus? Do you cover research? Policy? Consumer news? Trends? All of it? There are only so many hours in a day and there's so much happening.
So, I'm focusing on what no one else is... what's happening at the legislature, a little bit of research, some military health stories. I'm still feeling out what will draw readers (i.e.,"click bait") and serve the information needs of the community at the same time.
Q.What's the best part of being your own boss? And why did you want to create your own news platform?
A. At first, I complained that all I wanted to do was get more health news out there, and I had to start a not–for–profit to do it. Now, I'm beginning to have fun. I'm working my butt off, but I'm using different parts of my brain. I'm writing and producing content. I'm also thinking about fundraising, writing grants, building a board, managing freelancers. At times, it's overwhelming, and at times, it's super–fun, and at times, exhausting. But I feel more energized than I have in years.
Look at that, I wrote "fun" in the same paragraph twice talking about my work... I haven't done that in a long time!
Q.What advice would you give to med/sci journalists who are having a hard time finding traditional jobs?
A. Big. Sigh. That's a tough one because it's a rotten time to be looking for a job if you want a "traditional" reporting job. You need to think outside the box, think for yourself, take some risks.
But that's easy for me to say. I've only been able to start this project because I have a little in savings (all spent now) and the financial support of my wonderful husband who said we could live on one salary as I got this thing up and running. I don't know if I could have done it without him.
I think folks coming out of J–schools now are better prepared to be entrepreneurial than I was a mere decade ago, when I didn't have a single multimedia course. Now my alma mater (UC–Berkeley) requires everyone to have multimedia experience.
If I had advice, it would be, learn as much about multimedia and the web as you can. It wouldn't hurt to take an accounting course, too, or a business management course, because chances are you'll be running your own thing, or you'll be part of a group trying to start something. And be prepared to keep learning.
At some conferences, it would be considered rude to tweet during a presentation, blog about a speaker in real time, or forgo a breakout session to take a snack break. But at the sixth annual ScienceOnline blogging conference those activities were not only expected, they were encouraged.
"It's networking and building a community that underpins our conference," said Anton Zuiker, director of communications for Duke University's Department of Medicine. Bloggers network and build communities by engaging with each other online and off, a concept that Zuiker, a 2004 master's graduate of the UNC medical and science journalism program, and his ScienceOnline co–founder Bora Zivkovic, blog editor for the Scientific American magazine, embraced.
Zuiker got the idea for Science Online in 2006, after he helped organize the first Triangle Bloggers conference. He met with Zivkovic at the Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro and hatched the idea for an "un–conference" where science bloggers could meet each year. In 2006, about 40 people participated. Last January, 500 people traversed the globe to participate at the event, held at North Carolina State's McKimmon Center. For many attendees, the conference is the only time each year that online friends or colleagues can meet face–to–face.
"It's like a family reunion," said Zuiker. "People have social connections. It's about facilitating those connections and building community through conversations."
That familiarity and general warm fuzziness (Zivkovic is known for greeting conference attendees with hugs) is what separates Science Online from other meetings that emphasize professional connections over social ones.
That's not to say there's no work done at ScienceOnline. On the contrary, participants set the agenda through an open wiki where they suggest speakers, discussion topics and demonstrations they'd like to see at each upcoming meeting. The final result this year was 70 workshops and 30 "blitz" 15–minutes talks and demonstrations. Topics included sexism in blogging, software tools for outlining books and research, and the pros and cons of loading your online pieces with links to scientific data and articles.
Anne Johnson, a 2011 master's graduate of UNC's medical and science journalism program and a freelance science writer based in Chapel Hill, said the conference helps keep her business fresh.
"As a freelancer, it can be easy to just keep going back to the same organizations again and again, and the conference inspired me to reach further afield and expand my business in new areas," said Johnson. "I also loved the practical workshops, such as the crash course in photography."
Plans and conversations about next year's conference are already underway, just look for the twitter hashtag #scio13.