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Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT partners with STAT on a new health journalism fellowship

The Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship aims to support early-career science journalists of color.
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Headshot photo of Sharon Begley
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Sharon Begley, an award-winning science journalist at STAT who died in early 2021, was long considered one of the country's leading journalists and a powerful advocate for people of color.
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Photo courtesy of STAT/The Boston Globe.

The following is an adaptation of a joint announcement from the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, STAT, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.

The Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and STAT, the award-winning Boston-based health, science, and medicine publication, have teamed up to launch the Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship.

The fellowship’s goal is to better diversify the ranks of science and health journalists and to foster broader and more inclusive coverage of science. The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) is providing $225,000 to support the first two years of the program, which is named in honor of Sharon Begley, an acclaimed science writer for STAT who died in January from complications of lung cancer.

The nine-month fellowship is intended for early-career journalists from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the profession and will prepare them for a successful career in science journalism. It will combine a paid reporting apprenticeship at STAT with an educational component provided through MIT’s prestigious Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) Program. The fellowship is now accepting applications for the inaugural Begley Fellow to start in September 2021, with plans to select two additional fellows in 2022.

“KSJ is honored to be a partner in this pioneering fellowship that honors the exceptional work of Sharon Begley and offers a new opportunity to support outstanding and inclusive science and health journalism,” says Deborah Blum, director of the KSJ Program at MIT. “We appreciate the commitment of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to improving racial and ethnic diversity in our community, which we believe is essential to smarter and more inclusive coverage of scientific research. And we are delighted to be working with STAT, one of the best health news publications available today, in assuring the success of this project.”

Science journalism reflects the structural and systemic inequities in our society, with Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Indigenous reporters often not getting the same opportunities as white applicants to gain relevant experience. Roughly 80 percent of science journalists are white, according to the most recent membership data from two of the leading professional organizations, with 6 percent identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander, 1-4 percent as Black, 3-4 percent as Hispanic or Latinx, and 1 percent as Native American.

“The best way to make our profession and workplace more diverse and inclusive is for news organizations to grow their own talent — and that’s exactly what Sharon aimed to do,” Gideon Gil, a STAT managing editor, says in explaining why STAT decided to create the fellowship in Begley’s name. “Sharon relished mentoring younger science journalists, and her professional progeny work at news organizations across the U.S. So we could think of no more fitting way to honor her.”

The funding from CZI will enable both KSJ and STAT to offer Begley Fellows a stipend, with a combined total of $75,000 during each term. KSJ will also provide MIT-based health insurance for each fellow. In addition, STAT plans to raise additional funding to cover fellows’ reporting expenses and the program’s administrative costs, and to keep the fellowship operating in future years.

Fellows will work at STAT’s Boston, Massachusetts, office alongside its team of experienced science and health reporters and editors. The fellows will report and write articles, with additional opportunities for building connections, mentorship, and learning across publication teams. KSJ and MIT are providing support for the university-based part of the program, which offers opportunities ranging from training seminars and other fellowship community events, university library access, and the chance to audit classes at MIT and Harvard University. The Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship aims to serve as a model for expanding racial diversity in science journalism that could be replicated at other publications.

Begley, STAT’s senior science writer, was long one of the nation’s finest science journalists. She was known as a generous supporter of younger journalists and was especially eager to help other women advance in a profession that, when she began as a researcher at Newsweek in 1977, was unwelcoming. She later worked at the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, before joining STAT at its founding in 2015.

"Sharon loved working at STAT and did some of her best reporting there, and mentoring younger journalists was one of her talents and priorities,” says her husband, Ned Groth. “So, for there to be a Sharon Begley Fellow at STAT, honing their journalistic skills in association with and mentored by colleagues who were in turn mentored by Sharon, seems like a perfect tribute to her."

Her legacy includes her powerful advocacy for people of color, exemplified by a series she wrote in 2016 and 2017 about the neglect by scientists, government funders, drug makers, and hospitals of patients with sickle cell disease, who, in the United States, are predominantly Black.

“Supporting reporters from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in journalism will bring important perspectives to the newsroom and surface new narratives and stories relevant to more communities, which will not only make biomedical reporting better and more accurate, but also help encourage greater public trust in science among historically marginalized groups,” says CZI Science Communications Manager Leah Duran. “We’re proud to support STAT and MIT to stand up this exciting program to cultivate talent and expand representation in science journalism.” In 2019, CZI supported the University of California at Santa Cruz to increase diversity, inclusion, and representation in its science journalism program.

The Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship is accepting applications through June 30 at 5 p.m. For more information and application instructions, please visit KSJ’s online portal. For inquiries, technical assistance, or other questions pertaining to this application, please contact Gideon Gil or Deborah Blum.

Press Mentions

Stat

Isabella Cueto, a Cuban American journalist who has worked as a newspaper and radio reporter in Florida, South Carolina, and California, has been named the first recipient of the Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship, reports STAT. “Named in honor of Begley, an award-winning science writer for STAT who died in January from complications of lung cancer, the fellowship combines a paid reporting position at STAT with an educational component provided through the prestigious Knight Science Journalism program.”

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