From “ice cream socials” to science: Creating confidence in young journalists

15 Oct

banner_final2.jpgDuring the past few sleep-deprived months, I have been attempting to reflect on my role in science communication–as a journalist, as a blogger, as a future mentor and as a grad student. For those of you who don’t know, I started Layman’s Terms Media because I have always had a passion for science.

Ever since I was about five years old, my elders have encouraged me to write. They said I was good at it, that it came naturally to me. I guess my first-grade journal entries about what I had for dinner the night before were impressive. I could always expect to receive at least one new trendy journal at every birthday party.

To me, writing was just a way to express myself and the world around me, I never thought about pursuing it professionally. It was my vice, my learning tool and my sense maker.

My early career aspirations ranged from being an Olympic gymnast to other common childhood dreams such as being a doctor, teacher or movie star. I ultimately decided to attend journalism school not only because writing came fairly easy to me, but I also saw it as a way to learn a little about a lot of things.

I originally started Layman’s Terms Media as a senior project–one of which I predicted would be live only until grades posted, eventually doomed to get swallowed in the abyss of the Internet, never to be found again (except, maybe by some obscure search terms).

While interning and freelancing at multiple “mainstream media” outlets, I exhaustively tried to pitch stories about science, but I was constantly rejected. Instead, I would be told to cover the typical “ice cream social” (a word journalists use to describe an irrelevant, fluffy, feature story). Those types of stories are fun at first, but they aren’t the kind of scoop that gets your adrenaline going.  I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to progress with science writing as a non-scientist unless I started writing it for an audience, no matter how big.

And then it dawned on me….publishing is free on the Internet!

I guess I should’ve thought of this sooner since I had been blogging about nonsense since I was 13 via ancient blogging sites like Xanga and Live Journal.

And then I thought: Why not use that to my advantage and write what I want to write about? I mean, I had formal journalism training why not use it to learn and grow as a science writer?

From there, Layman’s Terms Media kind of turned into my personal platform to do so. With no editor (except myself) I began writing regularly. I set deadlines for myself as if this blog was an ACTUAL publication. I pretended I had readers, and would (and still do) post my stories on Facebook and Twitter in attempts to get some sort of critical eyes.

And here I am, two years later.  I have a steady readership–it’s modest, but it’s something–and I can honestly say that writing for this “publication,” although not mainstream, has satisfied me in ways I’ve never experienced while covering “ice cream socials.”

The point of this post is not to ramble about my personal mission to become a science communicator, or share my narrative about how this site came to be. Rather, this post is to explain where I would like Layman’s Terms Media to go. I am writing it publicly so that you, the audience, can hold me accountable for the vision I am about to share.

This semester I have been attending science writing conferences in an attempt to network and learn more about the field. But, what I realized was a lot of people who are science writers are scientists. At first, it discouraged me. Having only a minor in marine biology, how was I supposed to compete with someone scientifically trained?

But now, I realize that’s the beauty of being a journalist–to be able to learn about something and write about it. I don’t have to be formally trained in everything I write about, as long as I am accurate and ethical in the way that I approach the story.

I now have the goal to use this blog to foster the curiosity of other students, like me, who may want to give science writing a try but may be dealing with the same reluctance I experienced.

I want to show them that there are platforms other than the local paper to help them grow as science writers. In addition, I want to improve science communication by helping train young journalists from the get-go, instead of scaring them off with the scientists vs. journalists rhetoric they are bound to hear in their future.

Even though I am early in career, I have come to find that this rhetoric only harms the coverage of science in the mainstream media. Instead, we should be highlighting how journalists and scientists are not so different, and more importantly, how we can learn from each other. By helping students get an early start, perhaps I can help (if even on a very small scale) inspire these young journalists to not be afraid to venture out and tackle science.  My goal is to help them build confidence to write about it in a way that is accurate, accessible and relevant.

I attended a guest panel in a multimedia writing class at the University of Florida (my school) last week and I had the privilege of offering some practical advice while also advertising my blog as a possible publishing platform for their assignments. To my surprise, I have received emails from inspired students who are excited to write for Layman’s Terms Media and I now have the chance to help mentor new (well, a little newer than me) science writers.

My vision has always been for this blog to grow and I can’t do it alone. I look forward to collaborating with these talented students and cannot wait to share the content they produce.

So, for the next couple of months be on the look out for a new batch of contributing bloggers and future journalists covering science, health and the environment in the Sunshine State!

Thanks to all my readers for your loyalty–I really appreciate it!

Sincerely,

Rebecca Burton

 

 

 

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9 Responses to “From “ice cream socials” to science: Creating confidence in young journalists”

  1. Stan April 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask.

    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest
    writing a blog post or vice-versa? My website discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours
    and I think we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you are interested feel free to send me an e-mail.

    I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

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