New award to honor science journalist Sharon Begley

Sharon Begley

The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) is pleased to announce the launch of a new award honoring the late science journalist Sharon Begley. The Sharon Begley Science Reporting Award, to be presented annually starting in 2022, will recognize and support journalists who exemplify excellence in covering science for the public.

The award will provide a $20,000 grant to a mid-career science journalist whose work exhibits the high standards Begley’s reporting embodied. In more than four decades at Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and STAT, Begley was trusted by her readers, respected by her sources, and renowned for her authoritative insights,  depth, accuracy, scientific rigor, lyrical prose, and myth-busting impact.

The award is being funded by individual donations through a campaign headed by Sharon’s husband, Ned Groth (@nedgroth), a scientist, author and environmental health consultant who was the longtime director of public service projects and senior scientist at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. With a substantial founding gift, Groth challenged Sharon’s colleagues and admirers to match his generosity during a private campaign that netted over $700,000 in gifts from more than 60 donors toward a goal of $1 million.

The CASW Board of Directors voted to establish the award as a key component of CASW’s new Science Journalism Initiative after meeting with Groth a few months after Begley’s career and life were cut short by cancer in January. The initiative is an effort to develop new programs to enhance the quality, diversity, and sustainability of science journalism. Programs launched with partners to date include ethics workshops at science writers’ conferences and an early-career fellowship program providing cross-training for science, health, and environmental reporters.

“With her unflinching dedication, skill, moral clarity, and commitment to mentoring, Sharon Begley was the best of the best,” said Robin Lloyd, president of CASW, which honored Begley in 2017 with a career award, the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. “The Sharon Begley reporting grants will support those who strive to follow in her footsteps.” Each grant is meant to help a mid-career science journalist complete a major reporting project that they would otherwise be unable to undertake.

In opening the public phase of the fundraising campaign this week, Lloyd encouraged science journalists and communicators to join the full CASW Board in honoring Begley and supporting excellence in media coverage of science with their personal donations.

“On behalf of the colleagues who will be supported by this new fund, we thank Ned Groth for his generosity and for providing an inspiring opportunity for our professional community to honor Sharon’s legacy and pay it forward,” Lloyd said. “The world has never needed and depended upon excellent science journalism more than now. Through our gifts, we can enable more great investigation and storytelling at a time when science journalism is contending with disinformation, political pandering and sometimes even abuse in reporting scientific facts and on-the-ground realities that can hold governments and institutions to account.”

The award, intended to increase in value if funds allow, will be the second major recognition established in Sharon’s memory. Earlier this year, STAT and the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT launched the Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship with a goal of diversifying the ranks of science and health journalists and fostering better coverage of science that is relevant to all people. The fellowship is supported for its first two years by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Sharon Begley

Sharon Begley was the senior science writer at STAT, the Boston Globe’s health and medicine news site, covering genetics, cancer, neuroscience, and other fields of basic biomedical research. Her work was recognized posthumously when she was named a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist along with two STAT colleagues for early reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. Judges for the Victor Cohn Prize cited the remarkable authority, authenticity, precision and confidence of her writing, praised the exhaustive investigative work evident in each piece of reporting, and noted that her pieces had “a propulsive force, an accuracy and a sharpness” that are the hallmarks of a knowledgeable reporter and polished writer.

Begley was previously the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, The Wall Street Journal‘s first science columnist, and the long-time science editor at Newsweek. Among her many awards were an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the Public Understanding of Science Award from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the AAAS-Kavli Award for (Online) Science Journalism.

Sharon Begley joined Newsweek upon her graduation from Yale University. In nearly 30 years at the newsweekly, she served as science columnist and editor and as a contributing writer at the magazine. Her column for The Wall Street Journal ran from 2002 to 2007, when Newsweek recruited her back, and from 2012 to 2015 she was the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters.

In nominating her for the Cohn Prize, Managing Editor Gideon Gil recalled that Begley was the first science writer hired when STAT was launched. “One person after another told us she was the best medical science reporter around. Hiring her would bring our startup instant credibility. She has.”

Begley was  author of the 2007 book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and the 2017 book Can’t. Just. Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions, co-author (with Richard J. Davidson) of the 2012 book The Emotional Life of Your Brain, and co-author (with Jeffrey Schwartz) of the 2002 book The Mind and the Brain. She moderated many panels at scientific meetings and addressed an array of audiences on the topics of science writing, neuroplasticity, science literacy, and how scientists can relate to journalists.

To learn about the entry process: Visit the Sharon Begley Science Reporting Award page

To make a gift to the Sharon Begley Fund: Visit the Sharon Begley Fund donation page.

To see who is supporting the fund: View the Sharon Begley Fund page and the campaign acknowledgments on the CASW website.

To hear Sharon Begley and other award-winning science journalists from around the world talk about their work: View this video prepared for the 2017 World Conference of Science Journalists. Begley’s comments on “spin” in press releases and scientific publications are here.