SAN JOSE, Calif. — It was a refreshing sight.
Representatives from heavy-hitting organizations in the science news world — National Geographic, Popular Science, Nature, The Scientist and many others — sat waiting to meet with young journalists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.
They were offering internships. Paid internships. And along with those opportunities, they hinted at jobs, upward mobility and growth in the industry.
The scene would have shocked naysayers about the news business, some of whom have been decrying the supposed bad-to-worse state of the industry. (Of course, not everyone agrees.) After Felix Salmon’s Feb. 9 article “To all the young journalists asking for advice…” went viral, there were plenty of people sounding off, and many seemed to take issue with his view of the future of the industry.
But here were the employers, sitting at tables along the walls of a meeting room, handing out fliers and taking pitches from potential employees.
Dozens of journalism students, all members of the National Association of Science Writers, counted off and dashed to tables for five-minute spots with each organization.
Some were magazines, like New Scientist and Science News. Others were public relations science writing positions at Johns Hopkins, Argonne National Laboratory and Johnson & Johnson. But the common refrain, regardless of the type of job, was that there is a future in this field. You just have to carve out a path, and most often, that means getting more particular in what you want to write about.
I’m seeing that general journalism skills are no longer enough. Charticles can be done by anyone with a strong writing voice and some wit, and trust me, there are way more of those people out there than you’d like to think. Even sports writing (my background) is a bit too imprecise these days. The best piece of advice I got from a professor was to tell stories no one else can tell, and convince anyone you’re pitching to that only you can write this story.
I want to apply that lesson to my journalism. That’s why I took a course in science writing, an area outside my expertise. I want to be both more marketable and more knowledgeable, and as I’ve found, every science article is an adventure. You learn so many things just from reading journals, releases and the data tables necessary to even form a question for the man or woman with a Ph.D. in that field sitting 10 feet away.
We all have to become irreplaceable, because unfortunately, being a great writer or storyteller is no longer a good enough selling point.
But being that and becoming a savant in, well, something? That’ll get you somewhere. Maybe anywhere.
As Greg Bowers, one of my mentors here at the journalism school, said, “You get smart by admitting you’re not smart.” I plan to prove that.