On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, Mark Somerson, Science Editor of the Columbus Dispatch, spoke to Ohio University SPJ regarding the growth and importance of science and environmental journalism in today’s world. Somerson has worked for 24 years at the Dispatch and became the Science Editor in 2002. He oversees science, the environment, health care and transportation stories.
Somerson began his discussion by telling the students the things that he has learned over the years that he believes all aspiring science journalists should know. One of his biggest pieces of advice revolved around writing about scientific studies. Somerson said you must understand the study beyond the PR release and understand the researcher, even before you start interviews. You must write for the reader and not the researcher, and remember to get all sides of the story by interviewing other researchers who don’t agree with the study.
You must also look everywhere for story ideas, whether it’s from reading National Geographic, perusing books, or watching educational movies.
Somerson then spent some time reading vivid leads and giving advice to the students who aren’t necessarily interested in pursuing a career in science journalism. He said to take the reader to where you are and draw them in. Trick readers to come in with a strong lead and take chances with your writing. Anyone can write a boring story, but if you can write a well-crafted piece about something interesting, you’ll continue to get people to come back. Somerson also believes that every journalist should ask to write at least one science story in his or her career in order to get the experience of understanding a process and learning something new.
“We try to connect with readers as much as possible,” Somerson said. “No matter what you write about, you should go to where your sources are.”