#AAASmtg Day 2: My inner agronomist + writing tips

Walking back into the Hynes Convention Center this morning, I felt prepared. I used the conference app to arrange my schedule for the day, I knew where to get free coffee, and I was wearing my most comfortable slacks. What I didn’t know was that career aspirations I had cultivated while studying agronomy at Iowa State University would come rushing back as Paul Ehrlich laid out his thoughts about the collapse our civilization. Yes, that is exactly what he did.

Thus, I spent my second day at AAAS swirling between science writers’ events and the global food security conversation at the meeting. I’ll spare you from the so-far-solutionless demise of the human race as articulated by Ehrlich and instead post a digest of advice from some of the best science journalists in the country. Below are highlights of luncheon panel discussion, including contributions by the likes of Carl Zimmer and Mariette DiChristina.

SCIENCE WRITING LUNCHEON:

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Advice from the winners:

Write your own stories. Don’t just report on Nature and Science articles.

New tools = bigger audience. Science writers should embrace a bright outlook because we have more ways to reach more people. Whatever you do, use multiple platforms. From the beginning, visualize how you will present the story, which parts can be audio, video, tweeted, etc.

Tell small stories, human interest stories. When pitching stories:

  1. Take advantage of where you are. Tell an editor something new about what is happening where you are, and subsequently, where he or she is not. 
  2. Take a look at what the publication has just done before you pitch. This seems obvious, but at Scientific American, it is probably the #1 reason for rejection.
  3. Don’t pitch stories that are boring but important. If it’s important, there is a way to make it interesting.

Your life is a diverse ecology of work. Don’t think about your work flow in a linear manner.

On working for free, don’t do it unless you get something out of it. Everyone does in the beginning because you it can be useful enough to justify no payment. But even when you are doing something for free, don’t undervalue what you are giving. Publications get hits, clicks, and eyeballs because of your content. That matters.

Bonus: The big P. E.:

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