Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

Student journalists enjoy a taste of science writing at New Horizons 2014

As this year's New Horizons in Science briefings opened in Columbus Oct. 19 as part of ScienceWriters2014, a group of bright young science-writers-in-the-making pulled out their pens, recorders and laptops with particular purpose.

These were the participants in the second New Horizons Newsroom, a CASW project designed to provide student science writers an unusual opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder on science stories with professional mentors and editors.

Charlie Petit, a veteran science writer and CASW officer, donned a green eyeshade (at newsroom kickoff, right) and corralled the greenhorns' talent and enthusiasm as the Newsroom chief. He emerged impressed.

"Hurrah for the reporters who worked the New Horizons Newsroom!" Petit said afterward. "Science journalism tends to be self-propelled and its own main reward. These reporters had no course grade at stake, we didn't pay them a nickel to write, but they cranked out fine copy for us and, er, mostly made deadline. We had some fun, and the ScienceWriters2014 meeting and its archives are the better for it."

Charlie Petit hands out Newsroom assignments at New Horizons in Science 2014

The Newsroom project was launched at ScienceWriters2013 as a way to give local journalism students a taste of professional science writing and provide coverage of New Horizons science on the CASW website, producing seven spot-news stories and two Storify curations of social media commentary. During the pilot experiment, six University of Florida students and two CASW Traveling Fellows contributed coverage of the 2013 science presentations. CASW board members and other senior science writers served as mentors and editors to help the students tackle tough science topics.

Six universities participate

This year, the Newsroom contributors grew to nine, drawn from six universities: Ohio University, host university Ohio State, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Florida and the University of Rochester. In addition to Petit, their work was supported by 14 professional science writers acting as mentors and editors. The work posted to the newsroom page (which is still growing at this writing) also expanded in variety as the reporters did additional research.

Bethany Bella of Ohio University's E. W. Scripps School of Journalism brought a video camera and tripod and tracked down New Horizons presenters for recorded interviews. "It was probably the most memorable experience in regards to my professional career, if not one of the best experiences of my entire life," she reflected afterward. "When I look back on this years from now, this weekend was the beginning of my life as a science writer."

Bethany (at far left in top photo, with fellow OU students Cassie Kelly, Kelly Fisher and Olivia Miltner) was one of several students who took advantage of the National Association of Science Writers' professional development workshops on Oct. 18 and the opportunities for networking with professional writerst. Newsroom participant Crystal Garner from the University of Southern Mississippi, who won a travel grant to support attendance at the full ScienceWriters2014 meeting, is shown in the photo below (second from left) socializing with new colleagues at the NASW-CASW awards night.

University of Florida journalism student Andrew Kays (shown in photo at left taking notes as Patrusky Lecturer Don Johanson talks with reporters after his lecture on human evolution), a veteran of the 2013 Newsroom, was supported by small travel grants from UF and CASW. CASW Executive Director Rosalind Reid said she is encouraging New Horizons host universities to "pay it forward" as UF did, by supporting students who might participate in future newsroom activities.

"Our host universities make their faculty, facilities and staff available and provide fantastic hospitality each year to ake this meeting possible," she said. The Newsroom is one way we can provide training, mentoring and career networking for student journalists; it's also a way to maximize the educational benefit for students from the host university and elsewhere."

ScienceWriters2014 awards nightNewsroom stories will be updated and archived on the newsroom page, where this year's mentors and editors are listed. Writers who contributed were:

  • Bethany Bella, Ohio University
  • Debamita Chatterjee, University of Rochester
  • Kelly Fisher, Ohio University
  • Crystal Garner, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Andrew Kays, University of Florida
  • Cassie Kelly, Ohio University
  • Kara Manke, MIT
  • Olivia Miltner, Ohio University
  • Karam Sheban, Ohio State University