CASW’s science journalism showcase comes of age

Right whales off the coast of Florida in 2014. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA research permit #15488.

Aspiring and early-career science writers have some new tools for learning from the pros.

CASW’s Showcase website, and the Storygrams series of annotations—produced and co-published by The Open Notebook—present award-winning science journalism to inform, inspire, and teach by example. As of October, a full collection of 19 Storygrams is now online at both sites, and CASW Showcase has grown to include 36 additional award-winning stories, 18 blog posts, and 6 videos. These online resources were made possible with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

What is a Storygram? It’s a dissection of a great science story, done through annotations that show what makes that story outstanding—whether it be beautifully crafted metaphors, deft handling of technical details, or expertly paced narration. Siri Carpenter, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Open Notebook and a freelance science journalist, conceived of the “story diagrams.” Carpenter commissioned professional writers to create the annotations, and accompanying author interviews, between 2016 and 2019 and served as the series editor.

This year’s final three Storygrams focused on science news reporting. Two looked at a pair of 2018 stories that reported on a Chinese scientist’s claim to have created gene-edited babies. Breaking from the original plan of annotating only award-winning stories, CASW and TON decided that that historic moment presented a remarkable opportunity to look at the work of science journalists in delivering a dramatic breaking story at the interface of science and society. Marilynn Marchione and Antonio Regalado, who reported separately on the claimed #CRISPRtwins, discussed their work at ScienceWriters2019.

“These last Storygrams, and the filling-out of our Showcase collection, give us plenty to celebrate this year,” said CASW Executive Director Rosalind Reid. “Especially at a time when journalism is under fire daily, it is terrific to see great work recognized and made available as a learning resource for all who would follow in these writers’ footsteps.”

Each Storygram article is republished in full and can be read with or without the professional annotations. On TON, the stories are accompanied by interviews in which authors answer questions that came up during the markup of their stories.

At CASW Showcase, readers can sample not just exemplary articles but also interviews with award-winning writers. The Showcase blog, “The Envelope Please,” examines the inner workings of awards programs and collected tips generously shared by writers and contest judges. And during the 2017 World Conference of Science Journalists, Showcase added video interviews with award winners from around the world, now available as the Worldview collection.

CASW hopes to continue adding new content to Showcase and to offer the site as a platform for formal and informal learning, in the US and internationally. Cris Russell, CASW’s immediate past president, conceived of the idea of a science-writing showcase, “I look forward to expanded use of Showcase as a learning platform for ‘showcasing’ the best of science writing. It provides excellent examples for science writing students and young journalists alike to better understand what makes a story outstanding,” said Russell.