How to get started as a science journalist?
Some of you have written to me recently with questions about covering health, science and wellness. So I’ve decided to condense all of my acquired wisdom in Q&A format here. It’s time for you to land your dream assignment in this niche!
But who the heck am I? I know a thing or two about this world. I’ve covered science and health for a number of places, including Playboy, Fast Company, Prevenion (US), Scientific American Mind, Spirituality & Health, Lancet and many more. You can check out my website here: www.dinsasachan.com. For more recent clips, go here: www.dinsasachan.com/more
Quick note: These tips are written keeping in mind the international market — mainly US and UK publications.
1. How do I find ideas for my health and science pieces?
Think cutting-edge. If you’re going to break into the science and health markets, you have to learn the art of unearthing latest research. Be it a piece reporting a new study or an article summarizing brain foods, you need to peg it to recently published scientific literature. Generic science pitches don’t fly with editors.
2. Where do I find this research?
The best resource is EurekAlert. It’s a press release service. You can find press notes about latest studies under various topics, such as behavior science, biology and astrophysics, on this site. Other useful services like EurekAlert are AlphaGalileo and Newswise.
3. I write about culture and travel. I’m happy with my beat. Why do you want me to dabble in health and science?
It doesn’t hurt to diversify. A lot of science publications pay really well. There are many who pay at least 50 cents/word for online work. One of them paid me 80 cents/word for a digital-only piece! Writing about science brings out the geek in you — that’s good for your mind!
4. All that’s fine. But how do I break in? What’s the trick?
There are a couple of things you can do. Try online. Print editions have limited space. So there’s only so much content editors can accommodate in an issue. But most science mags have an insatiable demand for short journalistic pieces online. Science magazines have really expansive front-of-book (FOB) sections as well. FOB stories range from 300–1000 words. So it’s possible to get some quality clips through this route, too. And it gets your foot in the door.
5. What about experts? Where do I find experts for these pieces?
It depends on the type of piece you’re writing. It’s possible to find sources by emailing media contacts at universities and institutes. You can also look through PubMed, a giant database of medical research, and find papers on the topic you’re writing about. Then contact the authors. Services like Profnet, HARO and SourceSleuth also come in handy if you need sources rather quickly.
5. I’m sure editors are bombarded with pitches. How can I stand out?
For one, pitch local stuff. Know a quirky scientist around the corner who is making tabs that can be used to measure heart rate? Pitch her story. India is a hotspot of innovation right now. International editors are hungry for stories from India. It’s a no-brainer — but be creative while pitching. Everyone knows meditation is good for your mental health. You won’t hear back if you pitch a study that has found just that. So look out for counter-intuitive research. Maybe some scientist just showed that meditation doesn’t actually help everyone. Now that’s interesting!
6. Can you quickly suggest some markets that I can pitch?
There are many of them out there. Here are some to get you started: The Lancet group. New Scientist. Wired (UK and USA editions), The British Medical Journal, Science, and Nature.
7. Can you recommend a free online resource for science and health writing?
The Open Notebook is perhaps the best. Check it out!
I could go on and on. So I’m opening the floor to questions now. I’m available over to answer your questions, clarify your doubts, and boost your confidence. Post your questions in comments below.