Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

What Do Science Writers Do?

A Guide To Careers in Science Writing

 

With the rise of web journalism, science writers are becoming less categorized by the media outlet they work for. More and more they are becoming multimedia "backpack" journalists, not only bringing their traditional notebooks to cover stories, but also audio recorders and still and video cameras, and computers with which to tweet and blog.

For example, newspaper and magazine science journalists may write news and feature articles for their print publications and also produce blog posts, podcasts, interactive graphics and video for their websites.

Conversely, radio and TV science journalists, besides writing scripts and turning them into audio and video segments, may also turn out text articles for the web site.

Science writers may not even work for traditional outlets, but may be independent bloggers or bloggers affiliated with the web sites of magazines or other media. Much of a writer’s time may be spent using social media tools to filter breaking science news and interact directly with audiences.

Book authors produce the most in-depth science reporting, devoting often years of work and hundreds of thousands of words to explaining their topics. In addition to fulfilling the traditional work of an author, they may also be involved in producing audio, video and interactive content for ebooks and tablet apps.

Similarly, the work of science PIOs extends beyond text news releases to video news releases, audio podcasts, blog posts and reports for social media outlets (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) explaining research at their institutions

News releases are produced in a journalistic style but commonly offer only the perspective of the PIO’s employer. Such releases are also frequently more detailed than a news article, since the releases must contain information meant for a wide range of science writers and other audiences. There are many types of news releases, including:

  • The hard news release, which reports on a discovery published in a scientific journal or discussed in a talk at a scientific conference
  • The feature release, which describes work in progress and is not generally tied to a newly published result
  • The backgrounder, a nuts-and-bolts history of a piece of research
  • The personal profile, which describes the scientist’s professional and private worlds.
  • The Q&A, which offers a scientist's opinions and explanations in his/her own words
  • The media alert, which notifies journalists of a news conference or other event
  • The grant/gift announcement, which describes a new gift or grant, explaining the objectives of the new research
  • The award announcement, which announces an honor or prize given a scientist
  • The tipsheet, a collection of short items alerting journalists to work being presented at a conference or in a journal issue

Besides news releases, science PIOs may also produce articles for institutional magazines, speeches and brochure copy.

PIOs also oversee distribution of their releases and other content to the media and other audiences, handle media inquiries and organize and conduct news conferences. They may also assist scientists in providing background and opinion for journalists preparing stories on breaking news with a science angle.

More broadly, they may manage communication strategies for controversial issues from animal rights, to scientific misconduct, to conflict of interest. They may also organize educational and background conferences and courses for science journalists and manage journalist-in-residence programs. And they may develop communication training programs for their scientists.