Welcome to Science Journalism!


ON OCT. 10 AND 11, 2014, OUR CLASS MADE  AN OVERNIGHT FIELD TRIP TO BIOSPHERE 2. If you have a class that Friday, you’ll receive a dean’s excuse. The trip is free, thanks to the generosity of donors and a Student/Faculty Interaction grant from Student Affairs.

Failure is a big part of success…. If you’re not failing all the time,
you’re not creating a situation where you can get super lucky.…
You have to go into (a story) knowing that you’ve got to get rid of
a lot of crap before you’re going to get to anything that’s special.
And you don’t want to be making mediocre stuff.

—Ira Glass, This American Life (PRI)

This hands-on course covers the fundamentals of writing stories and shooting photos about the wonders and complexities of science, technology, the environment and health in ways that capture the attention of a broad, general audience. You’ll find interesting news angles in journal articles, interview scientists, evaluate competing claims made by sources, write compelling stories about complex concepts and processes, and respond to editing. Guest speakers  explore key issues involved in communicating with the public about science. Readings and discussions  examine issues of balance, scientific uncertainty, accuracy and ethical codes for science journalists.


  • Communicate science clearly and accurately to the public without dumbing it down.
  • Gather, evaluate and organize news and information in ways that  produce accurate, impartial science stories for newspapers, magazines and/or online publications.

Science journalism calls for skills that can take years to hone and polish. This course is a first step in that process. At the end of the semester, you should be able to do the following:

  • Understand the differences between science journalism and science communication.
  • Understand the ethical responsibilities of the science journalist.
  • Recognize excellence in science journalism.
  • Analyze how news articles differ from feature stories.
  • Explore different models and techniques for finding, framing, focusing and structuring science stories.
  • Sharpen research, interviewing and observation skills.
  • Carry a story from concept to publication. Conceive, research, report, write and revise several types of science stories on deadline for newspapers, magazines and/or online publications.
  • Apply literary techniques to factual feature stories.
  • Shoot, edit and tone publishable photographs to illustrate science stories.
  • Conceptualize, collect data for and create a simple infographic to accompany a science story.
  • Constructively critique the strengths and weaknesses of your own work and your classmates’ work.
  • Identify markets for science journalism and learn how stories are sold. Write an effective query letter.
  • Publish as many stories as possible in class-produced or professional publications!

Exercises and assignments will build your journalism reporting and writing skills and exercise your critical thinking. Over the course of the semester you’ll write four stories for possible publication. You may cover science, technology, natural history, the environment, medicine, health and/or social science (history, linguistics, sociology and so forth).

  • An essay that analyzes and reflects on a subject to understand it in a fresh way and convey that understanding to others. Crafting an essay will help you find your writing voice, use your five senses and write in scenes.
  • A narrative interview or profile, along with an environmental portrait, that strengthens your in-depth interviewing skills and captures what makes a scientist tick.
  • A Biosphere 2 story and photos that demonstrate your ability to explain a scientific subject by using solid research and reporting, active verbs, strong quotes, on-the-spot description, color and sensory details.
  • A wild card, along with photos and an infographic, that illustrates your ability to find current research and translate a journal article into clear, concise English that helps readers understand cutting-edge science.

This course is geared toward publishing science articles in newspapers, magazines and/or online/mobile publications. We’ll focus on writing and a little on photography and infographics. I am, however, open to the production of short documentaries, photo essays, audio slideshows or other multimedia projects.  If you want to produce a multimedia project, you must  have taken a journalism course, such as JOUR 203 (Photojournalism) or JOUR 307 (Principles of Multimedia), that gives you the necessary photo, audio, video and software skills.



More than anything, I want you to enjoy this class, to learn and to be inspired. If you have a question or concern, please let me know.

Ask lots of questions. If you’re having trouble grasping something, don’t be discouraged. You’re synthesizing a lot of new information and evaluating problems in a type of writing you probably learned to do only recently. When you hit a rocky spot, let me know. If you have problems understanding the material, I’ll help you resolve them. I can’t help, however, unless you tell me. If you’d like to discuss your progress but have other commitments during my office hours, please email me to arrange an appointment to meet at another time.

Please feel free to email me about anything at any time. I check my email all too frequently and will get back to you ASAP. I want you to be successful in this class. I will do my best to help you succeed.

In 2002 I migrated west from Washington, D.C., after a long career at National Geographic. Over the years I edited and rewrote many science articles and book chapters on subjects ranging from geology and natural history to anthropology and archaeology. I was a senior text editor for National Geographic magazine, a senior producer for nationalgeographic.com, a senior articles editor for National Geographic Traveler and an editor-writer in the National Geographic book division, where I wrote chapters for five books. I was also the assistant editor of two books and the editor of three—The Adventure of Archaeology, Our World’s Heritage and Discover America. I have a B.A. in American Studies from Smith College and an M.A. in Anthropology from George Washington University.

From 2002 until 2010 I commuted between Tucson and Tempe/Phoenix, where I taught at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My courses ranged from editing and advanced editing to magazine writing and advanced online media.

Now I’m happy to be living at home full-time with my husband, who’s a retired research ecologist and a  professor emeritus in UA’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment. Our front yard is home to desert tortoises, and part of our garage is full of snakes and Gila monsters (in cages). We also have two rambunctious Siamese cats.

The great teachers I’ve known have had three things in common: deep knowledge of a subject, passion for that subject and an intense desire to communicate that knowledge and passion to others. My goal is to emulate those masters. I encourage you to think in terms of possibilities, both in school and on the job. Believe that you can do what you want to do.


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