At Sunday’s workshop, Tools for Tomorrow’s Today’s Science Writer, four panelists shared their thoughts about online tools, transparency, and better story telling.
It was no surprise to hear that journalism is experiencing a big shift from print to online. But, as Asmaa Malik pointed out, the fundamentals remain the same. We must find the stories, report them and present them. But how we’re doing that is changing. Asmaa is an associate managing editor at The Gazette. She runs the newsroom’s new media training workshops and writes Status Update, a monthly column that takes a look at how social media and technology shape relationships–on and off-line. She encourages journalists to go where your readers and experts are having their conversations–twitter, blogs, list-servs. News will break faster there than anywhere else.
Asmaa also identified a move towards open-data resources. One year ago, the White House opened its government data stores to the public. Some municipal governments have too. (You can listen to Vancouver’s plan to open up municipal data on a past episode of CBC’s Spark.) Other data repositories, like the Guardian’s Data Store and Document Cloud open the door for journalists to find data and use it for new stories.
It’s worth looking into. Let us know about any stories you cultivate from them or any new sources of Canadian data.
Colin Schultz has found that journalism is no longer an activity done in isolation, with the journalist working in isolation and unveiling the final work to the audience. Instead, it is morphing into an ongoing discussion and process. And, blogging, says Colin, has become a key part of that process.
During his journalism studies at the University of Western Ontario, Colin undertook an ambitious project to compare the advice of science communication scholars with the practices of working science journalists. He put all of his background work–interview transcripts, rough drafts and progress updates–on display, which allowed other bloggers, science journalists and his twitter followers to comment along the way. The highly interactive process improved his drafts, sped up fact-checking and made the final product better, he says.
Along the way, his work was discussed on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker–a website that evaluates science journalism with the goal of improving its quality.
Though the blogging model might work well when reporting a feature–allowing readers to help guide the direction of the story, as The Gazette’s Roberto Rocha did when he covered the call service industry–the audience and panelists universally decided that it probably wouldn’t work for news.
Miriam Boon, the U.S. editor of International Science Grid This Week, an online publication about scientific computing, presented on the value of embedded information in science journalism, using her graduate thesis on polycystic ovary syndrome and metformin as an example. One of the tools she recommends is Apture, which allows readers to get more information without leaving the website. Once set up, site visitors can read background stories, watch videos or slide shows, or access almost any other additional media–references and links to scientific articles, for example–you can throw at them.
After some technical difficulties, which were easy to sit through thanks to his on-camera antics, Ivan Semeniuk, the chief of correspondents for Nature, joined the panel via Skype. Until recently, Ivan was a journalist embedded with astronomers at the University of Toronto’s Dunlop Institute. He has worked at New Scientist, the Discovery Channel Canada and the Ontario Science Centre.
When it comes to new tools, he is not, he says, an early adopter. One must get beyond the novelty of a tool and to use it appropriately to bring a story into a different media. Whether you’re incorporating sound, video or a slide show to your story, everything comes back to a couple of basic journalism principles: Your story’s lede and the quality of your material–writing, video or audio–are still the most important aspects of the piece.
We hope you enjoyed the panel and begin using some of these tools in your reporting.
In addition to the links provided above, we’ve put together a list of useful tools for the science writer.
Follow us on Twitter: Miriam, Ivan, Colin, Asmaa, and Hannah
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