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.”

Storytelling, selling your story, and making stories better: A #DCSWA15 reading list

The DC Science Writer’s Association professional development day was this Saturday. It was an inspiring day with lots of food for thought! Storytelling was definitely a theme in several sessions, as was the notion of “selling” your story, whether it’s to an editor, to your dedicated audience or to an unknown population of readers. It also featured multiple rants against adjectives and adverbs in favor of stronger nouns and verbs, and at least two uses of the word verisimilitude.

The chance to reflect on writing, on being a journalist, on career development, on communicating science comes all to infrequently. But when it does, I’m always inspired to check out the dozens of articles, websites, apps, programs and books I hear about and figure out how I can use them to enhance what I do and how I do it.

And somehow the time to actually do that never materializes.

So, while it’s all still fresh in my mind, and while I’m casually keeping an eye on the sanctity of my NCAA bracket, I thought I’d throw together a reading list (a periodic habit …) of some of the stuff I jotted down at the meeting. And then, of course, share it on the Internet. I hope it’s useful! Feel free to shout out other resources/articles/apps/etc. you heard about.

First off, congratulations to all the DCSWA newsbrief award winners!

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post was the first plenary speaker – so much good advice! Alas, rounding up his advice is not the point of this post. Onward to the links:

Session: Secrets from Skillful Storytellers

(two-thirds of the way through the session I managed to delete my notes on this session, so it’s a bit thin.)

Richard Panek, author of 4 Percent Universe, among other things, and contributor at Last Word on Nothing

Liz Szabo, USA Today

Christopher Joyce, NPR

Session: Animation

Lauren Wolf and Adam Dylewski of Chemical & Engineering News/American Chemical Society

Sean Kelley, now an animator for NIST

Adam Cole – producer at NPR

Examples he showed:

I’m sure there was much much more! Feel free to shout out any resources/books/links/apps/etc. that you heard about at DCSWA PDD. thanks!

Finding the Higgs (video)

This little video seems to have brought some attention to my website in the last two days. It’s true that I did indeed play a role in the video’s early release coming to light on July 3. But as an editor, I usually watch such things unfold from behind the scenes and behind the bylines. So imagine my surprise when I’m reading the coverage of it in, say, The Telegraph, and I come across my name. It’s really great that many people in the blogosphere/Twitterverse/news world are careful to hat-tip and cite sources, but the more times I saw my name, the more I wanted to crawl under my desk.

Nevertheless, the whole experience was pretty darn fun.

Let’s recap.

Today was the official announcement of the discovery of a new boson whose mass and properties are consistent with the Higgs boson. (Superb Science News story here.) But if you were doing your job, you knew — or at least strongly suspected — this news for a week or more. And since we at Science News are in the business of, erm, science news, we’ve been closely monitoring the situation, making plans and back-up plans, and brainstorming for many possible scenarios. My contribution to that effort was to keep my eyes peeled for graphics, images, video, animations, whatever, so we would know what was available when we sat down to put the final package together.

I noticed late on Monday afternoon that CERN had started uploading some explainers, like this video of John Ellis explaining what the Higgs boson is. So Tuesday while making my morning rounds of the Internet over coffee and cereal, I thought I’d check up on the CERN site. There among some obvious placeholders for Higgs decay events was the video above with the headline, “Joe Incandela, CMS Spokesperson, on CMS progress on the search for the Higgs Boson, 4 July 2012”. It was July 3. I thought, “Surely this must be another explainer.”

His first line: “We’ve observed a new particle.”

Wha …?

I fired the link off to Alexandra Witze, who covered the Higgs this week for Science News. She wrote back 20 minutes later not only concurring that they couldn’t have meant to release the video, but also with a couple of paragraphs with quotes to add to her Monday story, or something. I hurried in to work so we could work with the other editors to decide what to do.

Well, when the people you work with include a former newspaper editor and former wire reporter/editor, the answer is write it fast, triple-check everything, and run with it. I started editing the paragraphs Alex wrote and dashed off a new lede. I passed it over to news editor Matt, who added the background and boilerplate while I watched the video, downloaded it for the 17th time, and checked all the quotes. Around 10:37 a.m., we hit “Publish” on both story and tweet.

The tweet took off in the Twitterverse. Alex also tweeted it with a shout-out to me for finding the video, which is how my name got attached to this extravaganza. After about an hour, David Bradley at saw the item, grabbed the video, and ran with a post. Somewhere along the line it acquired the reputation of being a “leaked” video. After two hours, CERN had password-protected the video. Minutes after we discovered this, we saw a tweet from Nick Collins at the Telegraph:

@NicholasCollins: CERN says joe Incandela video leaked online is one of several made to cover every eventuality and not representative of final #higgs dataset

Alex got a similar response from CERN, which we added to the story.

The idea that they prepared multiple videos was the theme of a funny post by the Physics Buzz blog from the American Physical Society:

I wonder what these other videos would announce if they do indeed exist. A week ago, the Physics Central team came up with a list of potential scenarios for the actual Higgs announcement tomorrow, and I really hope they filmed a few of our suggestions. A few of my favorites would have made for great TV, in my humble opinion: …

When asked why Higgs results appear to have leaked to bloggers early, a CERN spokesperson replies, “That’s a clown question, bro.”

By the end of the day, there were versions of the story (besides in the places already mentioned) in MSNBC’s Cosmic Log, Discover’s 80 beats blog, New Scientist, Ars Technica, Huffington Post, National Geographic News, LA Times, CNET, … and more. My name was mentioned in a small handful of them, some of which linked to my Twitter profile, but several which linked here. Late today I finally gathered the courage to look the stats for this site, which I don’t really maintain. What I found:

statistics graph
What's that bump? The Higgs boson, of course.

Whoa. Um. Hi there?

While my editorial role for today’s Higgs announcement was as the support crew, yesterday’s excitement gave me a sense of attachment to the story. So, I woke up at 3 a.m. to tune into the CERN webcast, sharing in the excitement with my husband (also a geeky science writer) and coworkers via IM.

All in a day’s work. Lucky for me, I *love* what I do.

What I learned at summer camp

I asked everyone this question when filming the clips for the video I put together because, by day 9, there was no doubt that we were at the closest thing there could be to summer camp for grown-up science geeks. I’ve been back from the fellowship for more than a month, but here’s a bit of a summary of the fellowship, both from stuff I jotted down while there and my own reflection:

I really enjoyed the lessons in model organisms; we later brought in yeast to study genetics. We continued to work with sea urchins, looking at both embryos and sperm tails. (why the latter? Because they are complex structures of proteins whose molecular motors serve an important purpose.) We played with tunicates, or sea squirts, too, dissecting out sperm and eggs and fertilizing under the microscope, then later looking at their larvae, which look like tadpoles, complete with a tail containing a nerve cord that’s reabsorbed when they mature.

brooke at gel
Brooke Borel pipettes pulverized protein into a gel.

We learned techniques: staining for specific structures in embryos; doing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis to determine what proteins are in a particular sample; doing yeast two-hybrid analysis to study protein-protein interactions; pipetting; dissecting; looking through microscopes; learning microscope software; and waiting and repeating, two important tasks in a scientist’s routine.

We heard talks on regeneration, science politics, funding and publishing,  science at the Poles, arsenic, basic cell biology, meiosis, DNA transcription — seemingly all over the map, but very appropriate for the setting.

We went out on MBL’s boat, the Gemma, to

Our haul from the trawl on the Gemma.

collect plankton and life from the sea floor, including everything from sponges to sea stars to crabs, followed up by a tour of the Marine Resources Center, where they keep and raise all the critters for various scientific purposes.

But one of my favorite parts was the informality of it all; the chance to sit around and talk to scientists in the field who have years of experience teaching, mentoring, learning, writing grants, sitting on committees, writing and reviewing

David Burgess leads a discussion about science funding and publishing.

papers, and so on and hear what they think. Equally important was the chance to meet journalists from other publications with a wide variety of backgrounds, to hear their trials and tribulations, journeys and experiences, especially at such a challenging time for journalism, and particularly science journalism.

After I posted about sea urchins, a family member asked how that could possibly help me in my job. Fair enough: I haven’t ever covered marine science or written about sea urchins. But just yesterday I edited a piece on photoreceptors on sea urchins’ tube feet, and I knew precisely what the writer was talking about and was able to confidently tweak the item because I’ve now held and touched sea urchins and learned about their structure.

Maybe I won’t directly use anything else I learned for a while; maybe I will. But for me, the fellowship encompassed the very reason I went into science journalism in the first place: to learn cool new things.

The personnel sphere of the recently retired deep sea submersible Alvin. How cool is that?!



MBL: Fun with video

Well that certainly went by quickly. I wish I would have posted more updates from the MBL biomedical journalism fellowship, but for now I’ll leave you with two videos I put together. I must brag a little: I recorded the video clips and put each of them together on an iPad, which I bought 4 days before leaving for Woods Hole. I’m pretty pleased with the result. (And a little in love with my iPad.) And, if you’d like to read a little more about the fellowship, visit the blog or read the press release.
Here’s an introduction to everyone:


And here’s what we learned:


Greetings from the Marine Biological Laboratory!

I’m spending the next nine days at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, as a Logan Science Journalism Biomedical Fellow. There are seven journalists on the biomedical course, and we’re here to get a hands-on understanding of cell biology, development, model organisms, and genetics, by doing the science ourselves through experiments and imaging.

Today we officially met all the other fellows, including the environmental

sea urchin under stereoscope
A sea urchin under the stereoscope (@MBL, May 19, 2011)

science fellows. (Of course, we all informally met last night at a certain bar that’s well known among the 300 or so former Logan fellows.) We saw our lab space and got an intro to different model organisms. “Scientists start with a problem and a question, and then seek out model organisms,” said course co-director David Burgess. For example, yeast is great for studying genetics, whereas frogs are good for studying embryonic development. We’ll be working with sea urchins, which are good for studying fertilization, cell division, and development.

After tonight’s evening lecture on embryo development and sea urchin biology, Burgess and course co-director Brad Shuster extracted some eggs tonight that they will fertilize so we have some embryos to look at in the morning. There’s 12 hours of science on the syllabus for tomorrow, so that’s all from me tonight. Stay tuned!

After several injections with KCl, female sea urchins release their eggs (yellow goo at the bottom). See the tube feet? (@MBL, May 19, 2011)

Reading list for #DCSWA professional development day

I moved back to Washington, D.C. in April after 4 years in Cambridge, England. Conveniently, the DC Science Writers Association was holding its annual professional development day just after my arrival, which gave me a great opportunity to meet up with friends and reconnect with professional colleagues. In the better-late-than-never department, here’s a post-meeting reading list. This isn’t a meeting summary – it’s just link goodness and things I want to follow up on, and maybe you do, too.

I’ll start the list with this year’s winner of the DCSWA newsbrief award: “Rare Earth Elements Not Rare, Just Playing Hard to Get,” by the lovely and talented Sarah Zielinski for Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog. Yay, Sarah!

Honorable mentions went to “How Mussels Hang On” by Sujata Gupta in ScienceNOW, and “Microscale Mimic of Human Ingestion” by Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay in Chemical and Engineering News.

The first plenary kicked off with a session on building online comunities with The Blogfather, Bora Zivkovic. Bora writes A Blog Around the Clock and edits Scientific American Blogs. His fellow panelist was Darlene Cavalier of Do read her bio — she’s fascinating!

Next came a session on maintaining standards on the Web, again with Bora and also with Mary Knudson, veteran science journalist, co-author of a Field Guide for Science Writers, writer of the blog HeartSense, and author of the book Living Well with Heart Failure.  On the topic of maintaining standards, see Bora’s Pepsigate post, A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem, and Mary’s post, Why I Won’t Blog for U.S. News and World Report.

At some point, the discussion in this session disintegrated into Blogger vs. Journalist, a debate (or “debate”, if you will) that, IMO, most people in the room didn’t really want to have. Brian Switek incorporated some of the discussion into his blog post, ‘Apples and Orangutans‘. Also somewhat related was Alice Bell’s post, ‘Has blogging changed science writing?

Building an audience for your book: I didn’t go to this session, but I sure do love hearing about new books. On the agenda were Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon; Eric Roston, author of The Carbon Age; and Brian Switek, author of Written in Stone, which was just about to be released when I last saw him at the NASW meeting in November.

The day concluded with some sage wisdom from former Scientific American editor John Rennie. Rennie reiterated his Science Online 2011 point that we should be adding value to stories online, not chasing the herd, which he summed up in Why Ed Yong is the Future of Science News (and You Could Be, Too). More from Rennie on his blog, the Gleaming Retort.

Kavli Science Journalism Awards: a #AAASmtg 2011 reading list

One of my favorite parts of the AAAS annual meeting used to be scoring a copy of the book of reprints of the science journalism award-winning articles. The 1998 meeting was my first, and as a graduate student I figured the best way to figure out how to BE a science journalist was to READ great science journalism. I still believe that.

David Walter Banks for The New York Times  The mouth of Avondale Creek in Alabama, into which a pipe maker dumped oil, lead and zinc. A court ruling made the waterway exempt from the Clean Water Act.
From the Toxic Waters series: David Walter Banks for The New York Times. Photo and story:

Well, those books are now sitting in a storage unit somewhere in Maryland, and of course these days they don’t even print the books anymore. But we all get to read and hear the award winners through the magic of the Internet. Here are this year’s winners (text lifted from the AAAS news story):

Large Newspaper—Circulation of 100,000 or more
Charles Duhigg, The New York Times, “Toxic Waters
17 December 2009; 13 September 2009; 23 August 2009
Small Newspaper—Circulation less than 100,000
Hillary Rosner, High Country News,“One Tough Sucker” 7 June 2010
[Read the story behind Rosner’s story on The Open Notebook.]

Steve Silberman, Wired, The Placebo Problem” September 2009
Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
Sarah Holt, NOVA scienceNOW, “How Memory Works
25 August 2009
The judges also awarded a “Certificate of Merit” for an entry by producer Vince Patton of Oregon Public Broadcasting and videographers Nick Fisher, Michael Bendixen and Todd Sonflieth. In two reports for OPB’s “Oregon Field Guide” program, on 4 February 2010 and 18 February 2010, Patton and colleagues showed the unanticipated impact of the bald eagle’s recovery on the breeding success of seabirds called common murres and a dedicated graduate student’s dogged pursuit of pygmy owls in a forest habitat on the edge of downtown Portland.
In-Depth Reporting (More than 20 minutes)
Alan Alda, Graham Chedd, Larry Engel, and Jared Lipworth, “The Human Spark”, 6, 13, and 20 January 2010
Richard Harris and Alison Richards, NPR, “Follow the Science: Calculating the Amount of Oil and Gas in the Gulf Oil Spill”, 14 May 2010 20 May 2010 28 May 2010
The judges also gave a “Certificate of Merit” to Gabriel Spitzer of WBEZ in Chicago for a 10 September 2009 report on how music can rewire the brain. They praised his use of radio’s story-telling capabilities.
William Saletan, Slate, “The Memory Doctor”, 4 June 2010
Cody Crane, Science World (Scholastic), Learning from Bears”, “Real-Life Bloodsuckers”, “Saving the Ozone Layer”, 1 February 2010; 26 October 2009; 7 September 2009
Large Newspaper—Circulation of 100,000 or more
The judges applauded Duhigg for his impressive combination of science reporting and investigative journalism. He looked at possible health risks of chemicals commonly found in the nation’s drinking water and the failure of regulators to update and enforce existing laws pertaining to such chemicals. “Charles Duhigg has set a new standard for science journalism and investigative reporting, distilling hundreds of research papers and regulatory reports into a damning indictment of water quality in the United States,” said Robert Lee Hotz, a science writer for The Wall Street Journal and one of the contest judges.

Small Newspaper—Circulation less than 100,000
In her tale of the razorback sucker, Rosner noted that despite an alphabet soup of conservation and recovery plans, there are fewer fish in a smaller range. There have been turf wars between conservationists and sport-fishing advocates over management of fish species in the river. And it is now apparent that without constant management, the razorback sucker will be unlikely to survive. “Hillary Rosner’s meticulous field reporting and graceful writing illuminates the central dilemma in endangered species protection,” said Nancy Shute, a contributing editor to U.S. News and World Report. “What to do with creatures who can no longer survive without human intervention?”

Steve Silberman told how an increasing number of medications are unable to beat dummy pills called placebos in head-to-head clinical testing, a point that has huge implications for the pharmaceutical industry. Only belatedly, he found, have researchers been trying to fully understand the power of the body’s response to placebos, and the real potential of that response to affect human health. Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer, said Silberman’s piece was “superbly written and superbly researched.” Mary Knudson, a freelance writer and journalism teacher at The Johns Hopkins University, called Silberman’s piece “a fascinating account,” told through an examination of medical history, drug trial records, and extensive interviews with scientists. “I learned that the humble phrase ‘the placebo effect,’ often used glibly to dismiss the benefits of quack therapies, describes a complex web of relationships—between doctor and patient, mind and body, and hope and affliction—that has a very concrete impact on our state of being,” Silberman said. “The pure joy of science reporting is having the perspective of a story open out like that. You start out by looking hard at some small phenomenon, and end up getting a glimpse of the higher orders at work in our everyday lives.”

Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
The winning segment asked how a famous psychology subject named H.M. could retain memories of his childhood but not recall short-term memories such as what he had for lunch. It told how researchers are starting to learn what memories may be made of in the complex chemistry of the brain. Through animal experiments, neurobiologists are beginning to pinpoint specific molecules in the brain that are associated with the formation of memories. They also have found molecules that can erase memories forever. Peggy Girshman, executive editor for online at Kaiser Health News, said the broadcast was “an excellent presentation of a compelling story combined with an impressively clear description of the neuroscience.” Holt said her reporting “allowed me to profile the scientists sorting out the chemical and electrical changes that allow us to keep, indefinitely, the recollections of a lifetime.” Holt previously won a AAAS science journalism award in 2002 for a WGBH/NOVA program on “18 Ways to Make a Baby.”

[PHOTOGRAPH] Vince Patton, Nick Fisher, Michael Bendixen and Todd SonfliethVince Patton, Nick Fisher, Michael Bendixen and Todd Sonflieth

The judges also awarded a “Certificate of Merit” for an entry by producer Vince Patton of Oregon Public Broadcasting and videographers Nick Fisher, Michael Bendixen and Todd Sonflieth. In two reports for OPB’s “Oregon Field Guide” program, on 4 February 2010 and 18 February 2010, Patton and colleagues showed the unanticipated impact of the bald eagle’s recovery on the breeding success of seabirds called common murres and a dedicated graduate student’s dogged pursuit of pygmy owls in a forest habitat on the edge of downtown Portland. Science reporter Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press called the reports “charming, lovely storytelling with a wonderful, leisurely pacing.”

In-Depth Reporting (More than 20 minutes)
This wide-ranging series asked basic questions about what makes us human and how our ancestors evolved with a spark of ingenuity and intelligence that set them apart from other species, including the Neanderthals with which they co-existed for a time. The series looked at what we share in common and what sets us apart from chimpanzees, considered our closest living relatives. And it discussed the latest imaging methods that are giving neuroscientists insights into the brain mechanisms that account for language, one of the most fundamental aspects of the human spark. Dan Vergano, a science writer for USA Today called the winning entry “a sprawling, ambitious look at what makes us human.” Paul Basken, science reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, called it “well-sourced, well-explained, and full of enthusiasm for the subject.” Series producer Graham Chedd noted that he first came to the United States from Britain nearly 40 years ago as a consultant to AAAS on public engagement with science, a role in which he helped found the NOVA science series on PBS. Since then, he has enjoyed what he called “a wonderful few decades making science shows, with my work with Alan Alda being the most rewarding experience of all. So I have much for which to thank the AAAS, making this award especially meaningful.” The series was produced by Chedd-Angier-Lewis Productions and THIRTEEN, in association with WNET.ORG.

Harris found independent experts who, using techniques available as well to BP and government specialists, concluded that the size of the spill was much larger than the official estimate of 5000 barrels a day. He located Steven Wereley, a Purdue University scientist, who used a method called particle image velocimetry to estimate that the flow of oil and gas from the crippled well could be 70,000 barrels a day. The NPR reports helped spur the creation of a federal panel (with Wereley as a member) to review the flow-rate estimates. By mid-June, the panel was estimating the flow at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day, in line with what NPR had found. “Richard Harris’s reporting on the Gulf oil spill was an important and ground-breaking development in an ongoing story,” said Janet Raloff of Science News. “His coverage shows how science can shape public discourse on an important topic.” Added freelancer Kathy Sawyer, formerly with The Washington Post: “In digging behind the official estimates, Harris exposed the shortcomings of the BP and government approach to estimating the oil flow.”

[PHOTOGRAPH] Gabriel SpitzerGabriel Spitzer

The judges also gave a “Certificate of Merit” to Gabriel Spitzer of WBEZ in Chicago for a 10 September 2009 report on how music can rewire the brain. They praised his use of radio’s story-telling capabilities. John Carey, a freelancer and a former senior correspondent for BusinessWeek, noted Spitzer’s “great use of the medium of radio, with sounds that really did paint a picture.”

In his reporting on Loftus, Saletan explored the mutability of memory and the role and power of faked images. His richly textured presentation, with embedded video and relevant footnotes, included an exercise in which Slate, an online magazine, did its own experiment on memory manipulation. By doctoring photo images from recent political history, Saletan showed how even highly informed and educated readers can come to remember bogus political stories as true. Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post said Saletan’s reporting raised important ethical questions about research on implanting false memories. She added that Saletan’s “smart use of a thought experiment with readers, illustrative video and comprehensive links demonstrated an authoritative use of online media.” Laura Helmuth, senior science editor at Smithsonian magazine, said the entry showed “a masterful understanding of research and its implications.” Helmuth noted that Saletan went beyond past profiles of Loftus “to reveal her complicated character.” Saletan said he owed the award to Loftus, who, he said, “believes in submitting everything to scrutiny, including herself. She feared no question, withheld no answer, and faced with an open mind the mysteries of her own past.”


The award winning pieces are all examples of great storytelling. In a blog post yesterday, Hillary Rosner laments the decline of long-form journalism: “I don’t think many other newspapers would’ve given me 4,000 words in which to tell the story—and it’s a shame, because I think there’s a hunger for long-form narrative journalism that’s only increasing as the outlets for it decline.”

She continues: “At a lunch for the AAAS Kavli award winners, fellow PLoS blogger Steve Silberman, who won the magazine award for his Wired story The Placebo Problem,” mentioned that he’d had the luxury of spending several months on his story—a state of affairs that’s as endangered today as the razorback sucker.”

As if to continue the endangered species metaphor, Silberman had this to say in the comments: “Hillary, it’s probably worth mentioning the bittersweet fact that, while I had the “luxury” of two months to report and write my placebo story, I was laid off with a ten-second phone call (technically, “non-reupped”) 48 hours after turning it in, after 14 years at the magazine and website … . … the whole experience was a vivid demonstration of how tenuous anyone’s position is in the current ecosystem.”


Charlie Petit of the Knight Science Journalism Tracker counted stories and (reporter) bodies from/at the meeting and noted that it seemed a little thin (on both counts). I’m sure we’ll get word at some point on the actual number of reporters who turned up.

For more from the meeting, you can search the Twitter hashtag #AAASmtg, search Google News, or look at BoingBoing. AAAS rounded up its coverage on its handy news page.

More on visualizing data: Guardian Datablog

I really enjoyed the excellent panel discussion on visualizing data in stories at the recent NASW meeting. [Shameless plug: my reading list for that and other sessions.] Tonight at a Royal Society panel discussion on data, Simon Rogers, an editor at the Guardian, talked about some cool things they do with data.

And lately, they’ve had a lot of data to deal with.

The Guardian launched its Datablog earlier this year. They even started a Flickr group where users can upload images of their own data analyses. Datablog includes posts that look at the data behind the figures used in the paper, and they take it a step further: they dump the data into Google spreadsheets for readers to view or download. For example, the top post today provides a spreadsheet of United Nations data on the burden of AIDS.

Wikileaks has provided them with truckloads of information and data to deal with. One example Rogers showed was the graphic published in the paper about IED attacks in Afghanistan. Online, they were able to create an interactive graphic that maps significant events over time.

Rogers talked bout how the embargo requirements have tied their hands a bit on what they can report, so for one of their graphics, they focused on what they were allowed to publish: Where did all the embassy cables come from?

I’m sure the journalists at the Guardian and elsewhere will be mining the Wikileaks data and finding stories for years.