Perspective: I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Michigan Anymore
The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, a Local View
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. Read journals by fellow AAASMMFs Krishna Sharma (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), Vanessa Vieites, Haley Dunleavy, and an essay from Charlene Rivera Bonet (English and Spanish).
What is Kansas?
When I first started the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, I had some hesitation over writing for a local outlet. While some of my peers would have the freedom to write about any science topics they wanted, I would be focusing on issues of interest to Kansans. I have never been to Kansas before. Was anything sciency happening in Kansas outside of agriculture? (Yes, it turned out). How could I be respectful of locals and avoid the pitfalls of parachute journalism?
Because the Fellowship was designed to place STEM students at media organizations, entering June 2021, I’d had little formal training in journalism, especially writing for newspapers. I’d taken a multi-week workshop taught by a local newspaper editor at my university but that was it.
The Fellowship started with a crash course on journalism taught by one of the editors at Science, covering the fundamentals of journalism in a few hours. Yet, as I would learn, writing for a local outlet didn’t always follow the three-sentence lede taught in the crash course.
When I started at my site virtually, I was anxious and felt like I had no clue what I was doing. How do I identify interesting story ideas? How do I reach out to sources and get a response? Am I going to be bothering these busy professors by asking them to talk about research that isn’t theirs? It was a learning process.
At first, it struck me as odd that I could take something someone else had written and make my own story out of it. Later, as I learned more about the business side of reporting, I learned that it wasn’t uncommon for media outlets to adapt stories to their audience to capture search traffic and in the case of my host site, to also cover it for the newspaper.
For my first story, my editor assigned me a topic. It was a localization of a story that had run in the Washington Post about Amazon Sidewalk, a new feature to certain Amazon devices that could allow them to share internet signals from a user’s own bandwidth by default, raising privacy, security, and ethics concerns. At first, it struck me as odd that I could take something someone else had written and make my own story out of it. Later, as I learned more about the business side of reporting, I learned that it wasn’t uncommon for media outlets to adapt stories to their audience to capture search traffic and in the case of my host site, to also cover it for the newspaper.