LEAVE LOTS OF TIME
- Set enough time aside to research background, interview your subjects, take photos and report. It all takes more time than you think it will.
- Do not procrastinate when it comes to finding sources and conducting research for your paper. Procrastination will only mean more stress for you.
- Schedule interviews as soon as you pick your topic. Science professors seem to be out of town more than anyone else, and you’ll have a much easier time of getting an interview if you give them advance notice.
- Journalism is fast-paced, and a deadline can easily sneak up on you. First thing, figure out when your semester will be exceptionally busy and plan ahead. You want to be able to start a story when it is assigned, if not before.
SNIFF OUT IDEAS
- Find topics that interest you. If you find a good topic, it’s almost fun to do the work.
- Always have a back-up topic in case one does not go through.
- When choosing a topic and an angle, think about your audience first and foremost. From then on, every question you ask and detail you include should somehow benefit your audience.
- Look for surprising or unusual topics. Is it something you haven’t heard of but are immediately interested in? Chances are others may be too.
- Do not be afraid to do a crazy science topic you have never heard of or do not understand. That’s the fun part about science journalism. You have an opportunity to learn about and research something you never would have otherwise.
- Science is complex and not all of it is interesting, so finding a good idea generally takes some pre-reporting. That means that you’ll want to feel out an idea to make sure it’s one you want to get invested in. Call up public information officers and ask what’s new in their department. Read the studies coming out of the UA. Or find a researcher you think is interesting, do some background research and then shoot him an email or give him a call and ask what he’s working on.
- Going to on-campus lectures is a great way to get story ideas and maybe even catch the ever-elusive scientist.
BE A DOGGED REPORTER
- Find sources. A lot of them. The whole point of journalism is to have a blend of outside opinions and facts that you can beautifully craft together to make a strong, balanced and intelligent article that’s also easy to read. You’re not an expert, but you also don’t want to be misled by one researcher either. Make sure you at least have three different voices for an article.
- Everyone will be hard to get a hold of. Be persistent. START EARLY. Scientists are much, much harder to get hold of than other sources. Once you’ve snagged the interview, ask for a cell number. Science is quite complex, and it’s likely that you’ll want to double-check something and won’t want to waste time leaving voice mails or hoping they see your frantic email in their inbox.
- When trying to get people to speak to you, be polite but persistent. Sending one email to a source isn’t the end of it. Several times I would send an email to introduce myself but never hear back. Instead of giving up, I’d send another email, and the scientist would get back to me. It all worked out perfectly. Most scientists like to talk about their work. They’re very busy, and emails can easily slip through the cracks. Good sources are the key to a good article.
- Scientists are busy. Some will never respond, but if you keep trying to reach them, you will often find that they were trying to avoid you because they are really shy about being interviewed. Stress to them how important it is to get their work out to the public. Continued funding for research requires taxpayer money. If citizens realize how important the research is, they will be more willing to support research funding. Believe it or not, scientists often don’t think about this because they are concentrating on doing the research, supervising their lab, writing manuscripts and grants.
- If you get stuck, ask for help in contacting people. Someone you know might have a connection to a great source for your story.
- Your classmates are resources as well. The bonds developed in this class don’t have to end. You can connect with your classmates again to create a project together.
- Be kind and respectful, as I’m sure you naturally are. You can’t go into a topic knowing everything, but you shouldn’t go into an interview knowing nothing. It seems obvious, but often students go to interview someone and make them explain the basics. When Jon Stewart has an author on the Daily Show, he hasn’t always read the book, but he knows the topic. You wouldn’t snag an interview with Steven Spielberg and make him list his filmography, so don’t do that to scientist.
- Interview your sources ASAP to make sure you have them.
- Let your sources come to you. You can get a great national perspective if you arrange to meet a scientist while they are in Tucson for a conference or to present a guest lecture.
- When you first get started interviewing, it may be tempting to constantly look at your list of questions. Make a concentrated effort to develop a casual, flowing conversation.
- Sometimes “the basics” of research can be pretty alienating and confusing. Don’t get bullied, and don’t be intimidated. There aren’t stupid questions. In fact, if you aren’t asking the stupid questions, odds are your story will go over your readers’ heads. The trick is doing enough background research to assure your source you aren’t a nimrod. I always like to say something like “What do you think the best way is to explain that to my readers who may not be as familiar with xyz.” Always blame it on the readers (unless you’re talking to the reader, haha).
- Be sure to record the interviews while also taking notes. Some scientific topics can be confusing at times, and if you don’t record the interview, some of those facts will get lost. Don’t rely purely on an electronic device, though. Taking notes will help you pay attention and offer a good backup plan if the recorder fails.
- Something that helped me tremendously during long interviews is jotting down the times that something interesting was said. If I didn’t have time to transcribe an entire interview, I knew exactly where to look to find the strong quotes that caught my attention.
- Let the story form organically from your sources. I feel that I wanted a certain angle, and when my sources pointed me in a new, better direction, it was hard for me to adjust.
- It is easier to have too many great quotes than not enough.
BE SKEPTICAL BUT OPEN
- Don’t be afraid to question things. Science stories especially need questioning. Scientists can be just as wrong as regular sources.
- Have no expectations, just ideas. This will allow the story to have its own soul. What we already know about a situation may not be its most pertinent aspect.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN BIOSPHERE 2
- Take advantage of the Biosphere 2 field trip. There are lots of great scientists and other staff out there who are also very compelling characters.
- The Biosphere 2 trip was my favorite experiences in college so far—at least my favorite experience with any sort of learning attached to it. The place is amazing, and the adrenaline really gets going when you have to run around and take pictures, interview sources and develop your story idea.
- With Biosphere 2 I have three things of advice: Bring a camera, do your research beforehand and tour the complex after dark. If you do these three things, I promise you’ll get a great story, capture wonderful pictures and have an amazing time.
DO THE READINGS
- Complete all of the assigned readings. They will help you with different writing styles and angles—and maybe even give you new story ideas.
TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS
- When you are taking photographs for your stories, take many and from many different angles and perspectives: tight shots, medium shots, establishing shots, close-ups, extreme close ups, etc. By many, I mean hundreds!
MAKE IN-CLASS WORKSHOPS WORK FOR YOU
- Engage in conversation with your classmates about the topic at hand. I learned so much about different perspectives that way.
- You’ll see throughout the semester that your classmates can help you out in numerous ways. There is a wonderful mix of scientists and journalists, and you can use that to your advantage, whether you get help in your writing style or getting an ‘in’ with your scientist.
- Give constructive advice in workshops. Their success depends on the group dynamic. Be thoughtful and constructive. Carol will tell you not to just say, “I liked it.” Listen to her. Everyone in the class will be at different levels, but everyone can speak from a reader’s perspective. Really weigh what works and doesn’t work in stories. Have debates. Take thorough notes when reading classmate’s work. Notice when you are bored or surprised, and ask yourself why you felt that way. Blowing off a workshop hurts everyone’s opportunity to learn.
DEVELOP YOUR POTENTIAL
- You can do anything if you work for it. Skills are only a small part of your future success. The most important part of the equation for your future is developing a work ethic.
- Experiment and challenge yourself to find effective ways of sharing information and communicating about science.
- Seek out people who will help you see your potential. Develop relationships with your professors, people in the administration and leaders at your jobs or internships.
- Seek out people who will challenge you and give you a tough, honest critique. This is the most efficient path to professional success.
- If there’s something you want to try, ask for Carol’s help. She’s really willing to work with students to help them achieve their goals. She can help you find a way to publish your work or try new storytelling techniques.
- If you bring a snack, White Cheddar Cheez-Its or Paradise chocolate chip cookies are the way to go.
- Have fun. This class was by far my favorite. Enjoy it while it lasts because the time goes by too quickly.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS FROM A GOOD FRIEND
Part of what made this course so memorable was the challenge it presented. I am just completing my first semester as a journalism student, so I have quite a bit to learn, and learn I did!
The first piece of advice I have to offer is to participate as much as possible. Initially, I was so intimidated by my classmates that I kept my comments to myself. I wish I had not let my fear of sounding stupid paralyze me from vocalizing my thoughts. Later in the semester I was less shy, and I definitely reaped the benefits. I was treated with respect by everyone in the class and learned that my classmates actually valued my opinion.
The second piece of advice I have to offer is to start thinking about each story as soon as possible. I was very passionate about my depth topic, but I struggled to narrow my subject, which led to my inadvertently putting pressure on myself. I put more effort and research into my story than any other piece of journalism I have ever written. I am still concerned that my piece is too broad, but I am proud of myself and I have learned from my mistakes.
The third and final piece of advice I have to offer is listen to Carol. I learned more than I ever anticipated by paying attention to every edit and critique she had in regard to my writing. I have grown by evaluating my weaknesses as a writer and making them my strengths. I still have a long way to go, but listening to the pros is a definite bonus.
One more thing…have fun! The beauty of this course is that I did not even realize I was in school half the time. I now know there is a clear difference between academic writing and journalistic writing (I prefer the latter). Let these few hours of class be your time to forget about grades and open your mind.
ADVICE FROM FAMOUS STUDENTS (NOW THOROUGHLY LAUNCHED ALUMNI):
- Read Ten Tips for Time Management in a Multitasking World and 8 Habits of Remarkably Successful People.
- Finish all your assignments 36 hours before they’re due, just in case a new idea or a new notion begs to be admitted to the mix.
- Deal with your demons. Organization is a key to overcoming procrastination. Carve out a space to work. Keep a list of what you need to do. Post it where you’ll see it as a visual reminder that you have work to do. Use index cards and color-code them with sticky notes and markers to keep track of story ideas, leads and sources. They’ll help you remember what you need to do, whom you want to call and where your story is going.3. Break down all huge projects into small problems. Start early to hone down the impossible to the quite possible. Five minutes of undistracted thinking, truly reflecting, brainstorming, ruminating—alone—will take you further than hours before a computer the night before an assignment is finally due.
- Plan ahead. Do NOT procrastinate. Assignments will require additional work outside class. Plan ahead and think conceptually before you arrive so you can use your class time efficiently. Gather assets (text, photos, video, etc.) outside class. Use class time to work on your Web projects.
- Use a calendar to record deadlines, office visits and team meetings. Write everything down. Don’t rely on your memory.
- Be a good listener and take notes. Review your notes frequently. Put your cell phone, laptop and mouse away during lectures, discussions and other class activities.
- Check your email every day or two. Please keep your mailboxes fairly empty so messages don’t bounce back.
- Master the concepts and skills we cover. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a few rocky spots. When you do, please come see me or Mike so we can help you. If you don’t have a member of the faculty as invested in you as you are in his or her discipline, it’s your fault, not the fault of the members of the faculty. We all have office hours when we expect to see you. Don’t ignore those times until you are in real trouble.
- Save your work often. Avoid computer disasters by backing up everything on your external drive.
- Don’t do anything you won’t be proud of doing ten years from now.
THESE TIPS FOR SUCCESS ARE ADAPTED FROM AN ARTICLE IN INC.
1. Education is an ecosystem, not a battlefield.
Be flexible so you’ll survive and thrive. Adapt easily to new situations and form partnerships with other students. We’re here to help each other succeed.
2. A classroom is a community, not a machine.
Our classroom is a collection of individual hopes and dreams, all connected to a higher purpose. I’m dedicated to your success and the success of your peers.
3. Education is service, not control.
I’ll set a general direction and then let you get the job done. You can make your own decisions. When working on a team, you can form your own rules. I’ll intervene only in emergencies.
4. You are my peers, not my children.
Students are the most important people in the school. Excellence is expected everywhere. As a result, you must take charge of your own destiny.
5. Motivation comes from vision, not from fear.
I want to inspire you to see a better future and how you’ll be a part of it. Work hard to fulfill your goals, truly enjoy what you’re doing and (of course) share in the rewards.
6. Change equals growth, not pain.
Change is an inevitable part of life. Success is possible only if you embrace new ideas and new ways of doing journalism.
7. Technology offers empowerment, not automation.
Technology is a way to free you to be creative, to build better relationships and to do better journalism.
8. Work should be fun, not mere toil.
Work should be inherently enjoyable. My job is to help you find a career path that will make you truly happy.