Starting a digital magazine, how the Flint water crisis came to light, and more from #DCSWA16 – a reading list

As always, DCSWA professional development day was a treat! One day, 100+ science writers, two plenary sessions, nine breakout sessions, and an epic happy hour afterward. The organization works hard to make sure we make the most of giving up a weekend day to think about what we science journalists do and how to do it better.

And as always, I walked away with a zillion things to ponder and many, many things I want to (re)read and sites I want to note for future use. So here’s a partial reading list for this year’s event.

First, the Newsbrief Award winners!

Writing awards:

Winner: “How to prevent a sheep traffic jam” by Emily Conover, which she wrote while she was an intern at Science. (She joined the Science News staff last week as our physics writer – yay!)

Honorable mention: “For penguins, it’s a matter of no taste,” By Tina Hesman Saey for Science News. Fifth year in a row we’ve been honored!

Honorable mention: “Rats forsake chocolate to save a drowning companion,” By Emily Underwood for Science.

This year was the first year for a separate category for multimedia. A multimedia team from NASA Goddard won for “What are the chances of another Katrina?” The ace team at Chemical and Engineering News won an honorable mention for “Why don’t we recycle Styrofoam?“, and Steve Baragona also got an honorable mention for the Voice of America video, “Scientists study slums for signs of spreading superbugs.”

Plenary: How to start a magazine in 10 months

Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist and professor Deborah Blum was the plenary speaker. It’s always a treat to hear what Deb is up to, and these days, it’s quite a lot. She’s now the head of the Knight Science Journalism program, and just launched the digital magazine Undark. The name, she noted, came from something she found when researching the story of the Radium Girls. “Undark” was the name of a radium-based paint used to paint watch faces. “The power of radium at your disposal,” one of the paint adverts read. She writes more about it in “The legacy of Undark: Why science journalism matters.

Among the features on Undark: “What I Left Out,” a space for book authors to tell stories that didn’t make the cut. Noting this one to read: Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn tell the story left out of her and her father’s recent book that asks whether Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn really did cure his testicular cancer with some mandrake root and a bottle of vodka.

Deb mentioned that one of her favorite pieces to write for her blog at Wired was “How to read a scientific paper.”

Of course the topic of that Pacific Standard article and Undark’s publication of an essay by the author of it came up. Deb noted that science journalism is not so holy that it’s above critique (see also an article in Motherboard about coverage of a study of the “vegetarian allele”), hence the invitation to invite Schulson to respond to criticism of his original article.

How to do great investigative journalism

Frontline correspondent David Hoffman noted that “scientific reports are the antithesis of storytelling.” But one day he came across a report in Science Translational Medicine that tracked an outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria through the NIH clinical center. He dug into the paper, went deep into research and then pitched a story to Frontline — that turned into “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria.”