About Science Journalism Jobs
You’ve probably heard about several sub-types of journalism (like sports or entertainment journalism) but did you know there’s also science journalism? In a nutshell, science journalism is about reporting on scientific issues to both scientific and general audiences. This is why science journalism jobs are mostly intended for those with a curious mind about the world surrounding us.
Science journalists keep up to date with the latest advancements and findings in several scientific fields. Without a doubt, this is a challenging job for most of us without a scientific background or curiosity. The job includes reporting on scientific matters that can be understood by and engage both scientific and general audiences. To translate complicated scientific concepts into a more simple discourse requires a lot of skills and knowledge.
In this overview, we’re digging deeper into the jobs in science journalism to give you a detailed perspective on skills, job outlook and the necessary education you’ll need to succeed. So let’s start!
What Do Science Journalists Do?
Unlike news reporters, documentary filmmakers and investigative journalists, science journalism involves a more relaxed and a bit of a passive work style. Staying afloat on the current topics in science mostly requires extensive reading and researching. But how does all of that translate into texts, stories and other media material?
New and interesting topics tied to science arise almost every day, especially as the world of technology continues to evolve. In most cases, these are the duties involved with careers in science journalism:
– reporting on research results from various scientific fields, mostly for online or science magazine audiences
– reporting and writing opinion pieces on the topics of space and astronomy (especially in periods of new NASA projects and findings)
– reporting on new collaborations between different fields in science and research (medicine and business, for example)
– conducting and publishing interviews with famous scientists, institute leaders or research groups
– attending and reporting on conferences, public research announcements and other events in the scientific communities
– analyzing and reporting on public policies involving science such as new laws, programs or plans on using science for military and defense purposes
– writing on the general history of science for educational and entertainment purposes
– journalists can also take up scientific editorial jobs where they’ll edit the production of scientific content
These duties are not mutually exclusive, of course. The majority of science journalists will find themselves doing most of these in time. But, the primary responsibility for a science journalist is to be very meticulous about sources and information they report. The scientific community has little tolerance for misinformation or excessive subjective input. This means that the science journalist needs to develop a very specific kind of “writing voice”, catered to their audiences.
The truth is, most science journalists will find themselves in science writer jobs. In other words, reading, researching and writing will be the main type of everyday job duties for a science writer. In time, they’ll get to do more field stories and get involved with people in the community.
The types of science journalism are not strictly defined so there’s no straightforward category list you can rely on. The most obvious way would be to divide the jobs into types according to the scientific field. However, you’d soon find out that regardless of the field, tasks are pretty much the same, only the content differs. Instead, we’re dividing science writing jobs according to the media outlet in question.
Let’s start with the old-fashioned one. Remember National Geographic? Despite digital media, physical magazines have not yet gone extinct. Some of them were shut down but it turned out that there’s still a market for niche magazines, including those dealing with scientific topics. These are hardly entry level science writing jobs, as magazines usually look for renowned and experienced writers, suited for their readers.
These may not be the best-paid positions for science journalists, but they’re certainly among the most prestigious ones.
Online Magazines and Websites
These are the digital variation of scientific magazines, with a great difference; they’re online and more demanding. Writing for an online scientific magazine entails many more tasks dealing with social media and writing specifically web-optimized content. For traditional science writers, this might come as an annoyance as they will also have to adapt their content to online requirements. One of those requirements is having to write fresh content almost daily. In this branch, science journalism requirements are adaptability and being most oriented towards the news portion of the job.
Established newspapers usually have at least one science journalist on board. Depending on how regularly they publish scientific content, they may as well have a scientific writing consultant on contract. Most newspapers will, at least, run a science story from time to time, but many of them might have the routine of publishing regular editorials on the topic of science. Some of the major publications will also have a regular science section.
However, writing solely for the newspapers might not be the most beneficial way of earning income. Most journalists with established careers in science writing would consider writing for a newspaper as an additional engagement income source, but not a stable and permanent position.
Bloggers and Freelance Scientific Writing Careers
More and more science enthusiasts become established writers by starting on their own, as self-employed freelance writers and content creators. And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Most freelance science writers will start building their writing portfolio by developing their blog or a website dedicated to science stories and then move on to writing for other established websites or media outlets.
What is particularly beneficial for science writers is establishing a successful blog now often requires a specific niche audience. The world of online content is now highly saturated and to get a regular audience and website traffic, developing a niche is the best way to get established. For science writers who want to focus on one specific area, this is the perfect way to build their resume and move on to more lucrative freelance science writing jobs.
General Science Communication Jobs
Jobs in science communication don’t necessarily include writing only journalistic content or even writing for that matter. Science communication careers also include positions at universities, agencies and different government bodies. In these positions, experts can work as consultants for public relations on the matter of science, especially during larger research projects that attract public interest being carried out.
Science journalism writer jobs often involve writing for business and professional publications (white papers) or for specialist and technical journals.
You don’t have to be an expert in journalism to know that it’s a world where both the work environment and work schedule can get quite hectic. It may be so for some science journalists, but for most part, their work environment is a lot more stable than a typical news reporter’s.
Injuries and Illnesses
Science journalism reporting jobs will usually involve some fieldwork that can potentially be dangerous, but it’s hardly as dangerous as war reporting. These situations will most likely include public events for presenting research results, conferences, or maybe research sites, depending on the field of science.
There are no significant illnesses related to a science journalist’s job except for the mental health burnout, which is sometimes associated with freelance writing careers.
If you’re only starting out in a media outlet or an agency, make sure to prepare for more turbulent working hours, as science journalism jobs entry level are a bit more hectic than higher-ranking positions. However, this is true for most paid or unpaid internships and entry-level positions, so science journalism is not an exception. Later on, as you establish yourself and advance, you’ll be working more regular working hours. Unlike other journalism fields, science journalism has perhaps the most stable routine when it comes to everyday tasks. If you’re looking into freelance careers, then the working schedule will depend on your organization of time and the number of jobs you’ll be multitasking.
How to Become a Science Journalist?
There are many qualities tied to being a science journalist. Still, perhaps the most important one is that it’s not “yet another job”. Yes, a science journalism job is interesting and engaging. Still, it’s also generally important to contribute to people’s understanding of phenomena and may significantly impact scientific communities. This is especially true considering we now live in an era of fake news and misinformation. Let’s see what exactly you need to get there.
Firstly, you need to understand the ropes of science, not only in present times but also in history. Scientific production is unlike any other corpus of knowledge as it aims to stand beside everything we know and objectively analyze both the material and social world. You don’t need to have a formal educational background in science as long as you’re an enthusiast who can show they understand what it really means to “do science”.
On top of that, science journalism jobs require a journalism job’s usual quality: curiosity about the world, and the writing talent to creatively engage others.
One of the top questions in the world of science journalism is: does a degree in science journalism really make a difference? Since there’s a solid number of famous science writers who did not obtain an official degree, it’s safe to say that a degree is definitely not a requirement. Additional evidence to that argument is made as we see more and more upcoming writers successfully taking on science journalist jobs who started out either with a general background in science (Master’s degree) or simply as enthusiasts.
Still, many have noted that a degree does help to develop one’s career a lot faster.
Scientific writing skills are not the only skills you’ll need. Here are some others that you will help you snatch the first job more quickly:
– Writing, writing and then some more writing! Regardless of how good of a writer you are, the competition is quite tough and you’ll need to be at your best. Do exercise writing, review your work and have others review it too. Only the writers with the distinguished “writer’s voice” come through.
– Impeccable organizational skills are also needed, especially if you’re looking for freelance positions. Know your material and sources and make work plans before the amount of work overwhelms you.
– Meeting others with a science journalism career and knowing your field is also recommended. Science journalism is rarely a teamwork, but as is the case with the majority of professions, creating networks and knowing the trends of your field will substantially help you develop your career. Don’t be afraid to reach out, others want to network as well!
– The main skill you’ll need is to understand logical thinking and complex concepts and have the ability to translate them into a more simple language, suitable both for scientific communities and general interest readers.
If you’re starting out in an organized media outlet, a newspaper or a website, the largest advancement you can make is moving from a science writer to a science editor job. This will, of course, depend on your skills and how well you’ll establish yourself among your staff peers. As an editor, you’ll oversee the general flow of content and make regular judgments on the quality and if the type of content is suitable for readers you’re aiming to engage.
On the other hand, a freelance scientific journalist job can turn into a permanent and well-paid position. On top of that, if you’re looking to develop your own blog or a website, you might advance in time regarding the traffic you’re receiving and develop quite a profitable online business.
Currently, the average science journalism salary in the US is $72,657, according to Glassdoor statistics. Of course, the final rate depends on the position and your experience. Some entry level jobs will be paid hourly, while some better established outlets pay up to $110,000 per year.
In general, the job outlook for science writers is positive: according to the Bureau of Labor’s insight into technical writers (which includes science writers as well), you can expect a growth of 8% in demand for new writers.
Prospects for science writers, especially in online science writing jobs will remain very good. According to experts, we currently live in a Golden Age of science journalism, especially when it comes to environmental science. The world is developing rapidly, which results in on-going problems affecting all of us. The basic human interest in science is increasing, as well as the scientific production of knowledge.
How to become a scientific editor?
Along with passion for science, to become a scientific editor you’ll need to start as a science writer to get the experience and meet the field you’re working in. Build your experience through scientific journalism jobs which will help you to establish yourself in the field. Editor positions require from 1 to 5 years of writing experience, depending on the outlet.
What does a science writer do?
A science writer follows the latest developments in the scientific world such as new findings, research results, collaborations between institutes and other research groups and general development of scientific contributions in the modern world. Based on that, a science writer will write news, features, opinion pieces or technical papers, depending on their employment positions. They can later move on to a scientific editor job, after accumulating experience and if they’re so inclined.
How much do science writers make?
The average science writer salary in the US is $72,657, according to the most recent Glassdoor statistics. Have in mind that this is the average calculation as the pay can vary from entry level positions (which are often paid hourly and based on production of content) to more premium positions. Established science writers who write for large media outlets can earn up to $110k per year.
How much money is the science journalism industry worth?
In the US, the news industry annually generates between $63 billion and $65 billion, but there are no specific calculations made only for the branch of science journalism. This is due to the fact that science journalism rarely exists as a separate industry as it’s covered under the umbrella terms of journalism and technical journalism.
How is science used in journalism?
The core of the science writer job description is understanding complex scientific concepts and processes, and translating them into simple language that is understandable to both scientific and general readers. Science in journalism is then used either as an extra argument when debating the issue or informing the readers on the matter (environmental science, for example) or as a separate section aiming for readers with a passion for science.
How to break into science journalism?
Currently, most people break into science journalism by starting freelance science writing, which often involves taking up one of the science journalism jobs you can do from home. By gaining experience in freelance writing, writers often advance and move on to more stable and lucrative positions. The most important thing is building a writing portfolio which can also include personal blogs and websites with well-written and researched pieces.
How to start a career in science journalism?
The formal way to start a career in science journalism would be to attend an official university program with a major in science journalism, network with other science journalists and move on from there. The typical way right now though, is to start looking for freelance writing positions for science magazines, websites with science sections or niche blogs for specific scientific fields. Hopefully, our overview of science journalism jobs helped you to understand the field better. Don’t be discouraged, start building your writing portfolio and search among numerous online writing positions to work towards your first big break.