Local science writing experts share experiences, offer advice for science reporting

Consider how news science-based stories are framed for the reader. Ask scientists about why a natural or human-caused occurrence happens. Take advantage of Madison-based science resources.


Training event attendees included students, journalists, science communicators, and freelance writers.

Those are some of the suggestions offered at “Secrets for Success in Science Journalism,” the spring 2017 training session presented this month by the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The training was generously sponsored by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Wisconsin State Journal. The UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication generously provided classroom space for the training.


During the “How I Learned to Love Science” session, Rebecca Wallace reminded attended that journalists and scientists are a lot alike.

Trainer Ron Seely, a freelance science and environment writer and senior lecturer in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication said science, and evolutionary science, is found in every day reporting. Reporters, he said, need to listen to people in their communities, explore the natural world, and ask questions, particularly “Why?”

Rebecca Wallace, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory, and Mark Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel health and science reporter, discussed how their careers led to writing about science. Wallace said she and scientists at the forest lab needed to overcome mistrust when she was hired to write about their work. “One of the most effective questions I asked is what do people get wrong about your research?” Wallace said.  Johnson said he began as a general assignment reporter but learned to love science by researching and writing about a deceased whale and the scientific research undertaken of its carcass — which included potential implications on human health.

Kelly Tyrrell, UW-Madison science writer, and Adam Hinterthuer, director of programs at the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources and communications for the Center for Limnology at UW-Madison, reviewed a number of resources available to science journalists. They discussed top science writing handbooks and websites, national science writing fellowship opportunities, campus resources for story ideas and sources, and an extensive list of science resources unique to Wisconsin. SPJ Science Journalism Success AH+KAT

Dominique Broussard, chairwoman of Life Sciences Communication, said science reporting is often consumed by readers who have their own biases and perceptions. Often science is believed when it reinforces a preconceived notion. As a result, how stories are framed is important, as is who delivers the message, she said.

Gregory Nemet, UW-Madison associate professor of public affairs and environmental studies, suggested that it might be a good idea for journalists to let scientists review descriptions of their work to ensure accuracy – something he experienced in Germany.


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SPJ Madison elects officers

The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists on Monday elected officers to a one-year term.

Officers re-elected are Mark Pitsch, assistant city editor for the Wisconsin State Journal, president; Lauren Fuhrmann, associate director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, vice president; and Breann Schossow, producer of The Joy Cardin Show, secretary. Furhmann was also elected treasurer, replacing Rebecca Wasieleski.

Other members of the SPJ Madison executive committee include former SPJ Madison presidents Gordon Govier and Terry Shelton and former reporter and college instructor Sam Martino.

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SPJ Madison hosts day-long training on ‘Secrets for Success in Science Journalism’

The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) will host “Secrets for Success in Science Journalism,” designed to offer journalists, science communicators, and students tips for producing accessible, accurate, and intriguing science stories.

The full-day conference will be held Friday, April 21, 2017, on the UW-Madison campus, 2195 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m., with seminar sessions starting at 10 a.m. and concluding at 3 p.m.

Journalists and science communicators from across a broad range of scientific disciplines and professional backgrounds will share their expertise in science reporting and seeking out science resources.


9:30 a.m. — Registration

10:00-11:00 a.m. — “An Overview of How Science Is Used in Everyday Reporting”
Ron Seely
, freelance science and environment writer covering stories throughout the Great Lakes Region and senior lecturer in UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications
Steven Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal reporter

11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ­­— “How I Learned to Love Science”
Rebecca Wallace
, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory
Mark Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel health and science reporter

12:00-1:00 p.m. — Lunch and networking

1:00-2:00 p.m. — “Science Resources in Wisconsin”
Kelly Tyrrell
, UW-Madison science writer
Adam Hinterthuer, director of programs at the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources and communications, Center for Limnology at UW-Madison

2:00-3:00 p.m. — “How Journalists Get Science Wrong and How to Improve”
Gregory Nemet
, UW-Madison associate professor of public affairs and environmental studies Dominique Brossard, chair of UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

Register online through Eventbrite. A $30 registration fee for non-SPJ members includes lunch. Registration fee is waived for current SPJ members and students, but the lunch price is $10.

City of Madison parking is available in the State Street Campus Garage, with entrances at 400 N. Frances St. and 400 N. Lake St.

This event is sponsored by Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Wisconsin Newspaper Association, and Wisconsin State Journal.

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Celebrate Sunshine Week at Madison’s Newest Newsroom

Madison area journalists and journalism students are invited to the NBC15 studios  on Thursday, March 16, 2017, to celebrate Sunshine Week. March 16th is the 266th birthday of James Madison, fourth president and author of the First Amendment, which includes freedom of speech and freedom of the press provisions.

Sunshine Week is an annual event that champions open and transparent government at all levels, and is observed by a number of organizations that are committed to the principles of the First Amendment and the public’s right to know, including the Society of Professional Journalists. Continue reading

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Open Government Traveling Show featured at Milwaukee Press Club on Wednesday, March 15

UPDATE: View this event on Wisconsin Eye.

UPDATE: A report on this event from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


The Milwaukee Press Club will host the Open Government Traveling Show – a panel discussion about the Wisconsin open meetings and open records laws – at a Newsmaker Luncheon on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 as part of the national celebration of open government known as “Sunshine Week.”

The public is invited to attend the event from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Newsroom Pub in downtown Milwaukee at 137 E. Wells St. Continue reading

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Gilman Halsted named Wisconsin Watchdog

Gilman Halsted, a retired Wisconsin Public Radio reporter who produced award-winning examinations of the state’s criminal justice system, has been named the 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Wisconsin Watchdog Award.

Over the course of two decades, Halsted became a familiar voice to WPR listeners, working for six years in the Wausau bureau before moving to Madison in 2000. He covered the courts and the prison system and also wrote and produced general assignment stories for daily state newscasts until his retirement in 2016. Continue reading

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Trump raises stakes for press, public

Feb. 1, 2017

Your Right to Know / Mark Pitsch

Two days before the new president’s inauguration, the Society of Professional Journalists and dozens of other media and government transparency groups sent a letter asking Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss his administration’s relationship with the press.

Among other things, the groups wanted Trump to affirm his commitment to the First Amendment, assure media access to his presidential activities, and allow expert government employees to talk to the media rather than muzzle them in favor of public relations officials.

Trump has yet to respond. Continue reading

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