Science journalism is the central way many of us learn how advances in science and technology are affecting and changing our lives — in everything from daily choices about food or health care, to issues that impact the planet as a whole.
But crafting great science journalism is a formidable challenge. Science journalists must be schooled deeply in complex scientific and technological practices, theories, and information. They must have superb skills in writing, video, and other media in order to convey the facts, import, and implications of new discoveries and data. They must be ace reporters, bringing critical thinking and hard questions to their investigations. They must have command of language that is both nuanced enough to communicate intricate ideas, and compelling enough to engage a broad public audience.
For the past 30 years, the Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) program at MIT, has been helping talented science journalists meet that challenge. Many fellows describe their year at MIT as one of the most productive of their lives, and as a source of eduring strength. As one of this year's fellows commented, “The power of MIT-style, interdisciplinary teamwork — combining varied skillsets and problem-solving methods to accomplish something that none of us could have done on our own — is a lesson I will take back with me to my newsroom.”
A world leader
The MIT KSJ fellowship, the leading program of its kind in the world, admits 10 to 15 seasoned journalists each year to spend two terms at MIT exploring new fields, solidifying their understanding of a particular research area, and getting up to date on the latest developments. Over nine lively months, the selected science and technology journalists build expertise and community in a program structured around course work, seminars, field trips, and workshops.
Hailing from all across the globe, the 2015 class of fellows pursue science journalism in a diverse array of media, from traditional newspapers to online video, as beat reporters, editors, and producers. They cover a broad range of scientific fields, including climate change, public health, and astrophysics.
“Working with this group of caring, curious, and committed Knight Fellows has made my year as acting director of the program a real joy,” says Wade Roush, a former editor-at-large for Xconomy who holds a PhD from MIT's Science, Technology, and Society program. “When I think about the concrete things they've accomplished and the things I know they'll do in the future, my worries about the journalism business fade away.”
SHASS Communications recently spoke with a number of the current Knight Fellows about their fellowship year at MIT, the science stories they think are most important, and their views about journalism. Click on the "Interview" links to read a short Q&A with each KSJ Fellow:
Medical producer, BBC News, United Kingdom
"The explosion of social media platforms and digital story telling tools has complicated questions of who is a journalist and what journalism is."
Director/producer of Wicked Delicate Films, Massachusetts
"Human narratives not only hook viewers, but also provide context and grounding for otherwise complex or intangible ideas."
Science and environmental producer and head of desk for RIA Novosti, Russia
"Science journalism, when it's accurate, balanced, and not overhyped, can have an incredible public impact."
Health and science editor for The Boston Globe, Massachusetts
“The power of MIT-style, interdisciplinary teamwork — combining varied skillsets and problem-solving methods to accomplish something that none of us could have done on our own — is a lesson I will take back with me to my newsroom.”
Reporter with O Estado de S. Paulo, Brazil
“We all will be affected on some level by climate change. But I am afraid that journalists have been losing relevance in this area, and we need new strategies to communicate the importance of this dramatic issue. One big step in that direction is to understand the science and the politics of climate change better.”
Independent writer/producer, North Carolina
“The fundamental questions we learned to ask in philosophy, the basic understandings we glean from history, politics, economics — these all form the foundation on which you base your understanding of any science, research, or policy.”
Independent journalist, China
“It’s great to be away from China at MIT this year to recalibrate and think about how we frame important issues related to China and the rest of world.”
Freelance journalist, New Jersey
“History and philosophy, especially, are essential to how I think about the fields I write about. We have math, we have the empirical scientific method, and we have philosophical analysis. To neglect any one of these would be like trying to sit on a two-legged stool.”
Staff reporter at The Seattle Times, Washington
"From neuroscience classes to medical-evidence workshops — and much more — the MIT fellowship has propelled me toward my goal of becoming the best-informed reporter on the beat.”