We asked a number of AAAS Mass Media Fellows (AAASMMF) to reflect on what they have learned, how they have changed, and why it matters. The journal below by Krishna Sharma, who is placed at the Miami Herald, has been lightly edited. Read our other journals by fellow AAASMMFs Vanessa Vieites and Haley Dunleavy.
Today I prepared for another interview on my second story, which is a conservation project involving some of the biggest corporations plus state and federal agencies.
It is a sprawling, massive, and novel effort, and I have had the pleasure of being in a repugnantly long email chain to set up interviews.
A wonderful director of communications for a non-profit put me in contact with people from each of the partner sites in one email, and so I’ve been excavating interview times from the mudslide of responses. Tomorrow, in fact, I will be interviewing with a powerful director of one of the most famous/ wealthiest companies in the world — crazy! And today I had an interview with a very amiable and knowledgeable lobster biologist.
I finished doing more edits with my first story and had a nice, brief communication with my editor. I also got Otter.ai, at Alex Ip’s recommendation, to transcribe for me which is a lifesaver. Other tasks included cataloging my myriad new contacts into an Excel sheet (I was given a sheet like this from last year’s AAASMMF and will prepare to add more to it and share with next year’s fellow), doing more background research, and preparing interview questions for tomorrow’s interview. These days somehow go lightning fast.
If words grew like coral I could write the Earth’s new reefs
Instead today I write about
how little time they’ve left
How can one animal be such a never-ending kaleidoscope of nuance, intricacy, and confusion? The monarch butterfly is more complex than almost anything else I’ve learned about. Today I ate away hours just trying to condense it into one article, carefully choosing which parts of its life story to omit.
A condo collapsed in Miami today
At least one human passed away
Is there space for butterflies between their bones?
To wrap them in silk
A chrysalis grave
Another day of Otter.ai saving my time. I went through and highlighted interesting quotes in yellow, and good background info in orange. Given that these are ~40 minute long interviews, it’s surprisingly exhausting to go through and mark the transcript up - you have to commit the mental energy to basically re-experience all that information again but in a condensed form. I have five interviews so far to do this for and start my story outline. Also started a coworking session for the first time and met a couple of people from my cohort! I need to reach out to staffers at the Miami Herald and make more connections there too.
Given that these are ~40 minute long interviews, it’s surprisingly exhausting to go through and mark the transcript up - you have to commit the mental energy to basically re-experience all that information again but in a condensed form.
My brain is totally fried from personal life things this weekend. I had to work on a conference poster this morning for my graduate studies, and also had to do a lot of housekeeping, and then scoured for some jobs. So I’m needing to squeeze my work hours into odd times and will likely do some work in the evening. I love this field, but I’m learning one of the tricky things about it is that, since it is so mentally (and sometimes emotionally) intensive, balancing your energy levels is really tricky. And needing to write something when you just have massive writer's block is so difficult. I owe it to myself, and my career, to do things like eating healthy, exercise, meditate, etc. because I really need to keep my mental energy sharp.
Spent a whole afternoon getting my interview transcriptions into the introduction of my second story. Also, my editor assigned me a short-ish third story to start working on. Feels good to be in the writing groove. I need to dedicate a whole day applying to jobs soon, perhaps on the weekend. A small stress that comes with any summer fellowship I suppose, I feel like I’m in limbo, where come late-August I need an income.
Today I finished the first whole draft of my second story! Probably did six hours of just pure writing. Felt great. My editor also assigned me a story related to the recent building collapse tragedy in Miami, so I can start my third tomorrow. I’ll be juggling the final edits of one story, the middle edits of another, and beginning drafting of a third at the same time, something he warned me happens sometimes for journalists and can be difficult because it’s just so much information to keep in one head.
This morning I finished adding some pictures to and re-editing my coral story. Now I’m grabbing a virtual lunch with a fellow science writer, and then working on the concrete story! I bought a 30-lb dumbbell to lift to try and combat how painfully sedentary writing all day is.
My first article got published! I had pretty killer anxiety leading up to it as I was terrified of getting things wrong, angering scientists who thought otherwise, or generally being incorrect. But when it came out I shared it with some prominent scientists and got *great* feedback! Felt amazing. I think I will have less anxiety about publishing from now on because I have had the experience of publishing correctly now. Well, I got one small thing wrong (called it the “University of Florida Museum” when it’s actually the “Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida”), but my editor didn’t mind quickly fixing that at all (it’s an online story, not print).
I think I will have less anxiety about publishing from now on because I have had the experience of publishing correctly now.
Apparently, my story also did above-average in the expected readership and length of reading, which is great. Hopefully, I can keep that quality but start writing at a quicker pace.
So much to do. Three stories for this fellowship + edits for a massive freelance piece+ a conference presentation for my graduate research. Ahh!
Second story out. I also just got a massively fascinating interview from a scientist who has a fascinating underdog story... very unexpectedly. Drama, controversy, name dropping. I seem to keep falling into journalism full of controversy... but I love it! Still frantically busy.
Still juggling four stories at once. It is really mentally exhausting. I have to make sure I avoid burnout. I also think it will be a big relief when these projects culminate. I’m also trying to find jobs, going to a conference, visiting family for the first time since pre-covid, dealing with mental health crises of someone very close to me, and editing a massive magazine article. So I am mentally stretched thin. At the same time, this work is still the most fulfilling I’ve ever had, and I am confident in my choice to continue a journalism career. It fits my heart like a glove.
At the same time, this work is still the most fulfilling I’ve ever had, and I am confident in my choice to continue a journalism career. It fits my heart like a glove.
I think burnout is finally hitting me, I think mostly because the freelance magazine article feels a bit crushing, and working on 4 stories at once is exhausting.
Getting back to work. One of my stories is in a rabbit hole of interviews. I think ten people so far. The other also has more than average - five people. Hopefully, the latter one will be done soon
Finished the draft for one story. Tomorrow I will start on the bigger, more complex, ten-interview one. I have to figure out the core of the story, which is hard!
Made great progress on my two concurrent stories, applied for two jobs, and prepped for an interview tomorrow plus sent a slew of emails and prepared to work on my freelance magazine article. Phew.
I’ve gotten contradictory information from three different sources on a subject somewhat difficult to self-study by googling (the nuances of different concrete rebar material polymers). So I need to re-reach out to them all for more info. It is pretty crazy how time-consuming one article can be if an iota of controversy is involved — you have to take a lot of diligence to make sure everything is as objective as possible.
It is pretty crazy how time-consuming one article can be if an iota of controversy is involved — you have to take a lot of diligence to make sure everything is as objective as possible.
Man, I love talking to scientists. Just had a great second interview with one, who was very outgoing and funny, and also grateful I was interviewing him. Similarly, the last scientist I spoke to thanked me for writing about their research. It almost feels like a great symbiosis.