Wow! I’m now three days into my placement and I’ve only just found some breathing space to write a post. New Scientist goes to print on a Tuesday, so when I arrived on Monday afternoon (not morning – don’t ask – nightmare journey), everyone had their heads down, furiously tapping away on their keyboards. The big open plan office was buzzing with typing and brains whirring. I was introduced to everyone, who all seemed very friendly but busy; given a desk and computer, and set to work finding a winning news story related to (luckily) forensic science. I won’t spoil the surprise, in case it makes it to the magazine or New Scientist online.
I was surprised at how difficult I found it to choose a piece of research that was (a) not too niche and esoteric only of interest to a small handful of academics, or (b) hadn’t already been plastered all over the headlines. This is really a skill that I need to acquire! I thought that a bit of insider knowledge would help, but it may even have hindered me slightly, as I was acutely conscious of what colleagues would say if I wrote anything remotely inaccurate.
The next day was particularly frantic, and really nothing like I’m used to in (relatively) slow-paced academia. Keyboards were smoking until at least lunchtime, but as I didn’t have a piece in the magazine that day and wasn’t under the same pressure, I researched a couple of other forensic stories, completed my Health and Safety induction and familiarised myself with the tea and coffee-making facilities. I was shown around the whole London office, which I was amazed to discover only contains about 60 people, who between them manage the ‘Upfront’ and bite-size ‘60 seconds’ news stories, editorial features, technological advances, careers, opinion and letters sections, as well as designing artwork, layout, online content and marketing. Talk about talented! And they do it every week!
By late Tuesday afternoon, there was a collective sigh of relief as “final copy” made it to the publishers, and a well-deserved pint was in order.
Only three days in, although I feel a little out of my comfort zone, I am really enjoying the difference between science journalism and academic research. Whereas the latter needs sound results and robust methodology, the former is more focused on finding an intriguing angle for each story, and although scientific accuracy is paramount, the human perspective is necessary too. I am loving the challenge, and hoping that I can learn to master the art of science writing.