Two King Boletes found on a peak in the front range of the Chugach Mountains in Anchorage, Alaska. Haley's Ph.D. thesis focused on studying the responses of tundra plants and their fungal partners — known as mycorrhizas — to a warming Arctic. (Haley Dunleavy/The Xylom illustration)

“If You Are Here, You Are Good Enough.”


 

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 Haley Dunleavy, who is placed at Inside Climate News, has been lightly edited. Read our other journals by fellow AAASMMFs Krishna Sharma and Vanessa Vieites.

 


June 4

Wow so many new feelings, thoughts, tips I’m learning from just these three days. It feels really refreshing from what has become the norm for interactions in the academic realm. Panelists have been so open and sharing so much.


Almost teared up when one past fellow said “if you are here, you are good enough.” Recovering from academitis where it seldom felt that way. Not that I was ever told that I wasn’t by mentors or close peers. Obviously, there are likely struggles with this in journalism as much as in science, but it’s at least nice to hear it during orientation.


Some helpful advice:

  • One of the most important things is to get the story right

  • “Always park downhill” i.e. OK to leave a story that’s almost done at the end of the workday and come back to it the following morning.

  • Break patterns learnt as a scientist, the real world is much more open

  • Asking formal questions will get you a formal answer

  • Find the nuances/complexities in a story


Haley's notes during the orientation session of AAAS Mass Media Fellows. (Haley Dunleavy for The Xylom)

9 June

Day three, but it feels like 50.

BREAKS ARE IMPORTANT.


Time zones are difficult, especially when the sun doesn’t set.

Learning that maybe some don’t need to record to get quotes, but I definitely do.


Finally, I’ve found a home for my mild use of exclamation points in emails.


11 June

A newfound appreciation for people that respond to emails within a day. I feel completely wiped at the end of every day—will it get better? Am I just not a natural at this?


Finally, I’ve found a home for my mild use of exclamation points in emails.

Wrote my first draft between yesterday and today. Feels good to get something to “paper”, definitely a more familiar action. There are still so many little aspects of the story that I want to cover though. How do most people choose which tunnel to go down?


14 June

This Monday felt much better than the last. I knew the stories I wanted to work on, felt more confident in reaching out to people, and my editor has gone through my first story. I learned a lot about basic journalism standards I’ve never heard of (always always use ‘said’, no need to embellish with ‘stated’ or ‘offered’ or ‘reflected’— bonus: makes writing easier). It feels much better to have gotten through that first round of edits.


Unsure of when to stop interviewing people, not for this story in particular, but all stories.


My mind last week was utterly fried at the end of every day, especially Monday and Thursday when I have twice weekly 6 am staff meetings (Alaska, where I currently live, is four hours behind the U.S. East Coast, where InsideClimate News is headquartered.)


A double rainbow stretches over Haley's backyard after a day of work. Anchorage, Alaska can get up to 22 hours of functional daylight during summers. (Haley Dunleavy for The Xylom)

Already leaning more and more towards journalism as a career with just the short amount of time I’ve had as a fellow so far. I feel conflicted on whether I enjoy the constant change in “research” topics or wish I could stay and linger in stories for longer. I have to keep reminding myself that articles are not dissertations—there can be angles left for another day. Maybe long-form stories are a possibility.



15 June

Feeling a little out of my element today in knowing the ethics of reporting the current story I’m working on. This one is controversial—how do I talk to each side about the opposing side’s criticism of them without offending, but equally so not appealing to their egos/beliefs. When is it better to let the sources’ previous words and statements speak for them or is it always best to get a new comment on a topic? This is a completely new area for me, and I wish I knew more norms of the trade.


When is it better to let the sources’ previous words and statements speak for them or is it always best to get a new comment on a topic?

17 June

More lessons today—had my first interview no-show. It was a scheduling error, but of course, I became paranoid that it perhaps was something to do with my story topic or approach or the wrong word in an email.



Haley's dog Junebug enjoys a break hiking in the front range of the Chugach Mountains in Anchorage, Alaska. (Haley Dunleavy for The Xylom)

I kind of like how things like being pesky or, to put it nicely, persistent are expected of reporters. It’s a little bit freeing from not wanting to offend with some too many questions. Maybe it’s the fleeting nature of stories: things move quickly so there’s no point in feeling offended by a no-show or to overthink interactions.


Like many, in academia I often felt like I didn’t belong—I wasn’t raised in a family of higher ed and had to learn etiquette, terminology, and norms along the way. With journalism, asking too many questions about the smallest things seems like the expectation.


The second lesson was a “no thanks” response from a potential interviewee. The interview would have centered on discussing Indigenous sovereignty in science in general, stemming from a specific event in Sweden. But I didn’t clearly distinguish that I was looking for a broader conversation rather than one on the specifics in Sweden.


I feel so nervous about reporting on Indigenous issues, or really issues of any historically marginalized group of which I’m not a part. How to not lump the stories, attitudes, beliefs of one group altogether. How to not perpetuate historical and ongoing wrongs with misrepresentation, appropriation, or exploitation. How to earn trust with effort. I don’t want to get it wrong and continue these patterns of wrongdoing.




18 June

Some great advice from the staff meeting yesterday:

  • The act of taking a measurement changes what you are measuring.

  • Be kind to your sources—those who are everyday people allowing you to not only enter their lives but then share it in a story.

I love figuring out how to present a story, how to write it up, in what order to present which facts.


It’s so nice to sit with it a bit. There’s such a different kind of approach with journalism compared with science research. Obviously, the two disciplines share data collection, but then the absence of statistical analysis when dealing with quotes feels like there’s more room for free-flowing thoughts to find the connections, the tensions.


There are parallels between journalism and scientific data analysis—checking assumptions, quality control (is this source trustworthy?), and in the end, understanding if the model or framework is valid for the data. All are things I enjoy. But at least I don’t have to write in R script.

There are parallels between journalism and scientific data analysis—checking assumptions, quality control (is this source trustworthy?), and in the end, understanding if the model or framework is valid for the data. All are things I enjoy. But at least I don’t have to write in R script.


Haley's workspace at her residence in Anchorage, Alaska. (Haley Dunleavy for The Xylom)

22 June

Gahhhh, this one story is taking forever for me to figure out how to present. Feeling lost in the many angles. There’s such a balance between staying timely in reporting and getting a full picture of what’s really happening by talking to more and more sources.


I guess this is what ‘beats’ are for?


24 June

Another great conversation in today’s staff meeting all about the craft of writing.

  • Learn by writing more, rewriting more, reading more.

  • Non-fiction writing isn’t just about getting to the facts; emotions compel a reader to finish reading. How much emotion is too much though?

Lots of discussion on structure/narrative shape. In my never-ending saga of this one story, I’ve been struggling a lot with structure. It helps to hear others’ thoughts on narrative.


It’s also just nice to know that the full-time staff at my outlet who are all fantastic journalists still find value in revisiting these topics. How to apply it all?



25 June

Finally sent a draft of this one story to one of my editors.


We had a brief 5-10 min call that got this back on track. Talking about the structure with him and working out how/what to focus on really helped.


Writing a story on a science paper or report can often seem so straightforward, almost formulaic. Or even narrative stories written from a first-person perspective, like the ones I’ve written based on fieldwork experiences—it can sometimes feel like they write themselves. But when it’s a relatively new topic and there are countless angles/arguments/sources, it’s hard to know what information to present first, when to introduce new voices or arguments, what pieces of information or quotes to leave out (despite how great some of them are).


What’s my responsibility to include a source in the final piece, especially when they provide an hour of their time to walk me through their research or experiences?

What’s my responsibility to include a source in the final piece, especially when they provide an hour of their time to walk me through their research or experiences?


I’d like to get better at quickly filtering.



Short visits to the garden present a good break to stretch the legs and step away from the screen. (Haley Dunleavy for The Xylom)


2 July

Back to my struggle-fest of a story. Great talk with my main editor today about it. Working on tightening it up. Did a little bit of restructuring and editing down the word count.


She gave me a great piece of advice saying, “you don’t owe your sources anything.” I’ve been trying to remain as balanced and neutral as possible that I’ve given too much quote-space to two main voices. It almost comes off as imbalanced now… or maybe even promotional. Yikes!


So many new questions about the ethics of reporting have come up while working on this one story. Learning by experience. It’ll run on Wednesday. I hope it captures the situation well.


 

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Haley Dunleavy

Haley graduated with her Ph.D. in Biology and a Science Communication certificate from Northern Arizona University in 2021, researching the impacts of climate change on Arctic tundra. Concurrent with her dissertation, she served as a McAllister Program in Community, Culture and the Environment Fellow with the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society as well as writing for the Long-term Ecological Research Network. A 2021 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at Inside Climate News, Haley writes from Anchorage, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and dog Junebug.