Revisiting the Basics in Science Reporting
Simon S. Berege
More things to remember
• You should use the same techniques for good
• In particular, when reporting science, you
should remember the following:
• Read widely (Update)
• Science and technology advance so quickly
that you must keep up to date. Read articles
on science (Agriculture)
• Read books, ask experts in each field for
advice on the best books, journals and other
research publications for your needs -
• Make contacts
• Get to know as many scientists (researchers)
as you can.
• They can give you advice on subjects you do
not understand and, like any good contact,
they will be a useful source of story ideas.
• Choose people who can give you (a) story
ideas, (b) background information and (c) the
names of people you should ask for further
• Technicians and laboratory assistants can be a
very good source of story ideas, but do not
rely on them for the official version of a story.
If they give you a story idea, seek out the
scientist concerned for details.
• Building trust
• Some scientists do not trust journalists. They
may not think you are capable of reporting
their work properly or they may have had a
bad experience with a journalist in the past.
They may have been misquoted or seen errors
in a story.
• You have to show that you can be trusted. It
will help if you do some background research
of your own before interviewing them, so that
you can show you know the basic facts about
• It is not enough to tell them you can be
trusted; you have to show it in every story
that you write. If you make careless errors or
do not keep a promise, you will lose their trust
• Look for the human angle in your stories.
• The people who will be affected by the
development will often be your readers or
• Eg: The farmers who use the new corn will be
of interest to others working in similar areas.
• Some reporters actually show their story to
their informants before publishing it. This is
more common in feature articles than in hard
news stories. If you do this, you must make it
clear that they are only being asked to check
the facts. You must not allow them to dictate
how you write the story. They may be the
experts on science or, but you must be the
expert in what is newsworthy.
• It will help if you explain your needs clearly to
your informants before you start interviewing.
You can explain whether this will be a lengthy
feature, a documentary or just a short news
item. You can also explain who your audience
will be and how simple (or complicated) the
information needs to be. This will avoid a lot
of misunderstanding and possible bad
• For example, you may interview a botanist
about a new type of disease-resistant seedcorn she has developed. She may give you lots
and lots of detailed information about it,
enough to satisfy the readers of a farming
magazine, when all you need are a few basic
details for a general news story. Unless you
have warned her first, she may be upset about
how little of her information you eventually
• Understand the basic principles of any
scientific field before you can report in
• Reading books and magazines about science
• Taking an interest in scientific developments
• Establishing good contacts with experts who
can help you with information
• Simplicity (You are a bridge between the
world of science and your community).
Although the aim of scientists is precision, and
the aim of journalists is simplicity, there
should be no conflict between the two.
• You must be able to express the precise
details of science accurately in simple terms
(Experts, Dictionaries, Encyclopedia)
• Science is built on accuracy.
• Check the statistics and percentages
• (They should be understandable and matter
• Get out more. Find other scientists to
comment on the work
• Go for short sentences (Be able to read loud a
sentence in one breath)