1. Headlines: The people who write the stories don't always write the headlines. Writing a simple, eye-catching headline is a special skill (one that I find embarrassingly difficult) and sometimes it takes some outside help to get it right. A consequence of this collaboration is that, on occasion, the headline doesn't really represent the story. Please keep this in mind next time you rip a writer apart in the comments for a misleading hed. (Still point out the deception by all means, just temper the personal attack.)
2. For Interviewees: The relationship between a writer and their sources is vital to the writer's survival. Yet somehow, it feels much scarier being a source. If you ever find yourself in this position, there are a few things that I think it would be good for you to know.
- If a writer is going to grant a source anonymity, it has to be for a very good reason. You can ask for it, but it (generally) is hard to get.
- Sources are not friends. This can be a difficult rule to keep but it must be done so that a journalist can tell the story in a fair and professional way. (On the rare occasion that sources are someone near and/or dear, a journalist should disclose that.)
- Journalists do not like (and are sometimes prevented from) giving quote approval. This isn't -- or shouldn't be -- because we want to make people look bad. It's because sources should not have the power to alter the story. In some cases journalists will allow their sources to check their quotes for factual accuracy but they should make it clear that the source has no power to actually change anything. (FYI: Press officers -- the people who write press releases -- are a different story.)
- Stories are killed every day in all steps of the process. Until you see the story in print, there is no assurance that it worked out. So, if you are super excited to show up in a future piece, be aware that it is not yet a sure thing. (In the case of some internet stories, it may even disappear after it's been published.)
3. Sex Ratio: SHERP (my grad program) has had 31 classes. The gender ratio is about 75% women. While science journalism generally caters to a male audience, it is a profession chock-full of the opposite sex.
4. Quoting versus Paraphrasing: In journalism (again, not press releases), if there are quotation marks around a phrase or sentence, it should be a quotation. In some cases, journalists will cut out um's, uh's, like's, y'know's, and other filler words and stutters but there should not be any rearranging or word replacement. If a writer feels the need to make those kinds of alterations, they should take the quotation marks away. (It's good to note here that Q&A's, which often leave off the quotation marks, are generally paraphrased.
5. Magazine versus Newspaper Scheduling: How many times have you picked up a science magazine and read stories you already knew about? Probably too often. The problem here is that stories for monthly magazines are usually pitched about half a year before they appear on newsstands. It takes that long to check the viability of the story, interview sources, and then write, edit, copy edit, fact check, proof-read, and print it. Because of their fast turnaround, newspapers are not always fact-checked. Neither are most books (think James Frey). I don't know the reason for that one...