Sunday, October 6, 2013

It's been fun Blogspot, but I'm moving on

I've finally taken the career step of having a website that I can be proud of, that will have all of my information, links, and blog in one place. The new was designed by Color and Code, and you can check out my first post about why I stopped blogging for a while, and why I'm back with a renewed purpose. 

I won't be getting rid of this site, but I won't be updating it anymore. All new material will be over on the other site, so update your feeds accordingly. Thank you and I'm looking forward to continuing conversations!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sciobeantown at Midsummer Nights' Science

On July 17, Sciobeantown headed over to the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA to join in on their four week lecture series: Midsummer Nights' Science. Members of Sciobeantown took to Twitter with the hashtags #broadtalks and #sciobeantown to livetweet the event, which featured a talk from cancer genomics researcher Levi Garraway.*

If you missed the event, a video of the talk called, "Exploring the genome's dark matter** what frontiers of genomic research are revealing about cancer" is now online. You can also check out Sciobeantown's contribution to the Twitter discussion with this Storify of the event by Amanda Dykstra. Thank you to the Broad Institute for setting aside space at this event (which filled the room to capacity) so that Sciobeantown could participate!

*Dr. Garraway is a researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in addition to his work at the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School. I do cover his melanoma work as part of my job at Dana-Farber. 
**Using dark matter as a metaphor for the non-protein coding portion of the genome has been the subject of some science writer snark (possibly from me...okay, from me) but the title of the talk is the title of the talk, folks. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

World Conference of Science Journalists: Helsinki Recap

Well, it finally happened. After nearly a year of planning, conversations, blog posts, and twitter exchanges the #sci4hels – Rose Eveleth, Kathleen Raven, Lena Groeger and myself organized by Bora Zivkovic gave our presentation to the World Conference of Science Journalists. WCSJ2013 was held in Helsinki, Finland June 24-27 and included more than 800 journalists from 77 different countries.
For me, the highlight of the conference was certainly the opportunity to meet, listen to, and learn from so many different journalists with such different interests and areas of concern.

Sunset over Helsinki, photo by me
I kicked off the conference with a workshop from the European School of Oncology, in which there were very few Americans but several reporters from African countries. It was interesting to hear about the most prominent issues for them regarding cancer coverage, particularly access to information and the shift from covering infectious disease to covering a disease that is not transmissible.

Once the full conference program kicked off, it was a blur of ideas and activity moving from session to session and bouncing between ideas. I livetweeted every session I attended, which for me is a great way to synthesize information and take notes but it did leave me buzzing at times like all of the information I absorbed was rattling around in my brain. Most of my tweets were under the hashtag #wcsj2013 but there were also session specific hashtags and of course we tweeted with #sci4hels.

One of the most interesting sessions for me was on the topic of blurred lines between PR/communication and journalism. The speakers for the session were Anne Sasso and Kai Kupferschmidt who each took a hard line in favor of or against journalists doing work that isn’t journalistic in nature ie: getting paid for writing that represents an organization. After they each spoke their peace (and both have written great wrap-up posts here and here) everyone in the room was asked questions, what would you do type scenarios. Everyone was asked to move around the room based on whether they would or would not take the assignments in question.

To me, it seemed that everyone in the room highly valued journalistic ethics, but when it got down to the nitty gritty the lines were in fact much more blurred than people might have wanted to admit between what they would and would not do when the money is right. While most of us are not in the position to be worrying about accepting champagne and free trips in a private jet, it is still highly likely that we’ll all have to decide in the course of our career where we draw the ethical line. What about writing for a university? Other non-profits? Is it okay if you never cover them in a journalistic fashion? What if a major story breaks at the organization, can you use your connections to cover it better than other reporters? Is it right to do so?

It was a very spirited session and as someone who works for a non-profit I found it interesting to hear how a job like mine is viewed by other journalists. It really ran the gamut from people thinking I’ve already wrecked my career and compromised my ethics and impartiality, to people supporting the path I’ve taken and encouraging me to continue to do what I’m doing with all the transparency and honestly that is already a part of the writing I do here on the blog and elsewhere.

Prepping for our panel, photo by Bora Zivkovic
Our #sci4hels panel was on Wednesday of the conference and pulled in a fairly good crowd (at least, we weren’t talking to ourselves which was my great fear.) After introductions from Rose, I kicked things off talking about the sense of community that has taken root with the newest generation of science writers. I don’t think you could talk about community and not bring up the fantastic Robert Krulwich graduation speech to UC Berkley in 2011 where he introduced the concept of horizontal loyalty.

To me, a major difference in being a new journalist trying to break into the field today compared to the past is that you have to have so many different skills, or at least be able to pull off projects in many different mediums. One way to do this is to be able to partner and collaborate with other people who have a passion for things like video, audio, or graphics (to name a few of the things that are not my cup of tea.) This collaboration, the idea of making things together rather than trying to stand alone works well with the rise of journalist “tribes” or “packs” groups of journalists who meet regularly to swap stories, share ideas and support one another.

As more and more people go the freelance route and don’t have regular contact with their colleagues the tribe seems to be growing in prevalence and importance. I also spoke about the work that has gone into getting Sciobeantown up and running and what it means to be a part of the ScienceOnline community, which is an incredible network of people interested in science communication, not just journalism, which is something I love about the group.

After I gave my brief introduction to these topics, Lena spoke about code and using data and graphics to help tell stories. Kathleen presented on social media, particularly Twitter. After that, we opened things up to questions. I thought it was a fairly productive question and answer session, so thank you to everyone who came and participated (you can catch up with the types of questions we were asked at the hashtag #sci4hels.) I did not tweet at all during our panel, and believe me, it was a challenge for me to unplug, but it was also fun to check in after it was all over and see the stream of tweets coming in. It was great to see so many people interested in what we had to say.

Upon returning from Finland post-conference we found ourselves and our panel to be the topic of a column by Nicolas Luco in El Mercurio, a publication in Chile. This column focused on Kathleen and I having blonde hair, and how young the four of us are more than on the content of what we said about journalism and our careers. Even the take-away point Luco gathered from what I'd said, that good journalism is good journalism regardless of what multimedia you augment it with, was spoken by a "blonde no more than 25." I don’t have to tell you that this was disappointing and frustrating. But I’m not going to dedicate any more space to the issue, I have no need when Janet Stemwedel did such a fantastic job of describing our communication with Luco and why it was problematic in a post on her Scientific American blog Doing Good Science.

Sci4hels post-panel, photo by Arjan Raven
Overall, my experience at the World Conference of Science Journalists was a largely positive one. I enjoyed meeting different people, and had a blast with the #sci4hels and other science writing friends (and new friends!) I learned quite a bit, both about the profession and about myself and my career as we handled both praise and criticism. It is hard for me to believe that it really is over after such a build up and great experience, but it is. So thank you again to everyone who supported our panel, to the great friends new and old who made Helsinki such a fun trip, and of course to Rose, Lena, Kathleen and Bora for being great colleagues. Here’s to WCSJ2015!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wake Up Sweetheart, You're A Feminist (Book Review: The Good Girls Revolt)

I hope you read that title with the sarcasm with which it was meant, and that you never try to call me sweetheart. It won't go well. It's been a while since I did a book review here at Science Decoded (mostly because I don't have the time to read that I used to) but I just finished Lynn Povich's The Good Girls Revolt and it spurred me to want to write this post which has been kicking around in my brain for months now. The Good Girls Revolt is the story of the first all female class action lawsuit filed by the women who worked for Newsweek.

Even just two years ago, if you had asked me if I was a feminist I would have told you no. Back then the idea that women needed to form a movement to be treated equal seemed extreme. Equality isn't hard, it's a pretty simple concept really. So who wants to be all extreme and label themselves and fight for...what...what are we fighting for? I didn't know. I had plenty of opportunities, I interacted with professional women a lot. It didn't feel necessary. Besides, I like shaving my legs (though you should read this post about choosing not to). I have a closet full of dresses and high heels. You're unlikely to catch me outside the house without makeup. I was vice president of my sorority for crying out loud. Feminist? Psh. But you know what feminism isn't about? Those things. Any of it.

Coming from a relatively well-off, educated background where I was always expected to go to college and then work, I never thought of myself as a feminist. My Dad's attitude toward my career as a science writer has always simply been, go get 'em. I have surrounded myself in life by people, men and women, who value my intelligence and drive to succeed. Growing up I never felt like I was being compared to my brother or any other guy. I never felt like I was less or that less was expected of me. Feminists were an other, and if anything made me feel intimidated. The judgement of other women is scary, sometimes it feels scarier than the idea of walking into a room full of men to tell them what's what. But, spending a little time in the world, talking to people, and reading things like Povich's book or Dr. Isis' Feminist Awakening has a wonderfully eye opening effect.

I think most women in the workplace have a so-and-so said this absolutely jack ass comment to me about xyz story, at least I do, and I've heard many stories in a similar vein. The types of things that make people look at you like you've got six heads because surely someone didn't actually SAY that. You might not even have realized it, because at the time I didn't really see it as sexism. I knew I was upset that good ideas were being shot down. The thought that anyone would take the way I look and my gender and use that to gauge my ability as a writer before actually reading anything I wrote was so completely absurd to me, that I didn't even realize at first that it was happening.

In hindsight, this made me blame myself - maybe it really isn't that good an idea, maybe I'm not working hard enough, maybe if I'm here later and put in more hours, maybe if I prove I want to grab unpaid intern Erin and shake her and say don't you dare write that crappy story that you know is bullshit while the paid male intern gets the better story. Walk out. Leave. You're better than that. I've heard it said before that my generation is lazy and entitled. Well in my not so humble opinion, myself and my friends and other young people like us more often assume deeply personal responsibility for failure. If I don't get that story it's because I did something wrong. Me. I'm not good enough. How could it ever be that there is a system ingrained in society that is going to hold us back? This is 2013. It can't possibly be true that we're still dealing with this.

Povich's book chronicles events from the 60's and 70's, we can't still be having this same problem? No, no we're not. The problem back then was flagrant, out in the open, so egregious that it couldn't be ignored. That is still happening, oh, does it happen. But there is also a subtle sexism - a mild slight, a passing comment, a raise that's just a little less, a promotion that takes a little longer to get. These are the things that are harder to pinpoint, harder to blame on sexism, but are ultimately what made me wake up to the fact that I'm a feminist. Part of Povich's book focuses on today, on three women from my generation working for Newsweek: Jessica Bennet, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball and the story they wrote in 2010 "Are We There Yet?" questioning if the battle of the sexes is really over. Their experiences resonated with me a lot.

Since I entered college and started writing and trying to get my work published, I've been lucky in that the sexism I've faced has been mild. Sad state of affairs that it makes me feel lucky, but it does. Right now where I work my superiors are all women - my boss, her boss, her boss' boss, her boss' boss' boss...but my awesome situation isn't common (and believe me, I don't take it for granted.) But that doesn't mean that sexism isn't still here, and that other people aren't dealing with much worse on a regular basis. I'm a feminist for myself because yes, I want a fair shake, I want to be recognized for the value of my work and not whether or not my hair looks shiny that day. But, adding my voice to the other feminist voices out there is about more than just me. I've got it pretty good. I'm not trying to argue that I don't. But I can support the women out there who are dealing with overt sexism, who are being attacked. I can try to be an ally. That to me is the real value of feminism, of standing together.

It's my opinion that a lot of the yelling that happens on the internet (if you could only hear how loudly I am typing!!) happens because we've gotten so wrapped up in judging the world based on our personal perspective that we can't see the things that happen outside ourselves. I've never encountered sexism therefore sexism doesn't exist. We have GOT to shake off this way of invalidating the experiences of others. Once you start listening, I think you'll find like I did that the need for feminism is impossible to ignore. Participating in #sci4hels, and working with Rose, Lena, and Kathleen (follow us in Helsinki next week!) is another thing that has driven home for me the need for women to support each other. We've already used our platform to have a conversation about being female science writers, and I hope that discussion is one that will continue in the future.

Feminism, for me, is a way to recognize that we've come a long way but we still have a long way to go. We still need to get out there, and support each other, and continue having these conversations because equality might be a simple concept, but that doesn't make it any less evasive. I've had these conversations a lot lately, and have been asked, "do you think people don't take you seriously're good looking?" Typically, I answer something along the lines of making smart decisions is optional, and if anyone doesn't take me seriously for any reason that's their mistake to make. I don't think it's a bad answer, but until that answer is a resounding "no" we're just not done yet.

So, if you've been in the journalism business for less than 20 years, The Good Girls Revolt is a must-read. Hell, if you've been in the business for more than 20 years, it's still a good read. Recommended.