Professional Development Day 2009

Join us for the

2009 DCSWA Professional Development Day


Saturday, April 18 

AAAS Building 

(1200 New York Avenue NW, near Metro Center–enter at 12th and H)


8:30a-9:00a Sign-in and continental breakfast

9:00a-10:45a Plenary – Coping with Change: A Chance for New Opportunities


Lynne Adrine, Founder, LKA Strategies Coaching
Paul Thacker, Investigator on the Senate Finance Committee for Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Karen Watson, Middle/High School Science Teacher, Baltimore City Public School System

Many science writers have been laid off recently; others fear they might be or are seeing their job descriptions shift with the changing media environment. Our panel of former journalists will discuss how they’ve coped with changes by applying their skills in new ways.

11:00a-12:30p Breakout sessions

Pitch Slam

Audience members at the Pitch Slam will be invited to stand up and pitch a story — in one minute or less — and then get immediate feedback from the editors on the panel. Please come prepared with a few informal pitches. You’re welcome to direct the pitch to one or a few editors, or request feedback from the full panel. This is an exercise only — it is possible to get an assignment from a panelist after the session, but the session itself is intended to help writers understand what editors are looking for.

David Grimm, Editor of ScienceNOW

We’re looking for breaking news on all areas of scientific research and science policy. The findings should represent a big leap forward and should be accessible to a broad audience. Freelancers will have the most success pitching stories that fly under our radar–i.e., stories from scientific meetings and those not published in major journals.

Phoebe Connelly, Web Editor for The American Prospect

The American Prospect is a liberal DC-based political magazine with a focus on policy and legislation. The website runs 2-3 articles daily–a mix of op-ed, short reported dispatches (1,000-1,200 words), and longer reported features (1,500-1,800 words). From freelances, we’re looking for stories that explain, to a general audience, the particulars of a debate which is currently the subject of government regulation or legislation, or is part of the national conversation.

Victoria Jaggard, Space & Paleo Editor for National Geographic News

We’re looking for breaking news that covers the topics National Geographic is known for: archaeology, paleontology, environment, cultures, animals, space, and other things sciencey. We’re interested in pitches from less well-known publications, or in enterprise pieces based on current events, conferences, travel experiences, etc. Stories range from 250-word briefs to 800 words tops. And we love to know if there’s video or photo gallery potential.

Laura Helmuth, Senior Science Editor for Smithsonian magazine

We hire freelancers to write feature stories and 1,000-word departments in Smithsonian magazine as well as stories of various lengths for Science and nature stories should have compelling narratives and charismatic characters (whether human or animal), and the stories should speak to an issue of national importance. A photogenic setting or subject helps.

Mary Beth Gardiner, Editor of the HHMI Bulletin

The HHMI Bulletin relies heavily on freelance writers. Our narrative-based stories range from short, slice-of-life pieces (500 words) to mid-length, in-depth articles (850 words) to features (2500 words) on a variety of topics, all related to the researchers and educators that HHMI supports. Stories should be engaging, topical, and accessible to the Bulletin’s broad readership.

PIOs and New Media: Is the Press Release Going Extinct?

Matthew Wright, Outreach Specialist, Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS)

Dana Topousis, Media/Public Affairs Section Head, Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, National Science Foundation
Seth Borenstein, Science Writer, The Associated Press

Lynn Dean, Senior Communications Strategist, Office of the Deputy Administrator, Transportation Security Administration

The way scientific information reaches public is changing dramatically. How are public information officers keeping up? Join us as we consider the evolving methods through which PIOs are releasing information. Our panelists will lead a discussion with the audience on whether traditional press releases are getting shorter; if they are becoming less like stories and more like lists; and if institutions are forgoing press releases in favor of webcasts, podcasts, blogs, and tweets. Specific attention will be paid to how PIOs can build their own social media programs; whether journalists actually find social media venues useful; and if web publishing connects directly to the public and thus is rendering the interaction between PIOs and journalists obsolete.

Videocasting: Why?

Andrew Freeberg, NASA
Laurie Modena Howell, NSF
Jim Sliwa, MicrobeWorld/American Society for Microbiology

The panel will discuss using videocasting for storytelling, including questions such as what it can add, how it can tell or expand stories in a different way, and what kinds of resources (in terms of time, money and manpower) an organization might need in order to consider videocasting.

12:30p-1:30p     Lunch

1:30p-2:45p Plenary – Blogging, Twittering, Facebook, and other social media: What Good Are They?

Can social media really help science writers do their jobs–as journalists, PIOs, staff or freelance? Our new media-savvy panelists discuss.

Craig Stoltz has served as editor of The Washington Post Health section and editorial director of Revolution Health. He is a reviewer for, which evaluates popular media coverage of health and medical stories. As a web consultant, Stoltz helps health and media companies make wise use of 2.0 technologies and the social web. He teaches and coaches bloggers. He contributes to The Health Care Blog and his personal blog, Web 2.0h. . .really?, which takes a skeptical view of emerging uses of the web, was named one of’s Top 25 blogs in the U.S. He recently launched a project at PBS designed to help the network use social media strategically. Stoltz frequently speaks on the uses and abuses of social media in health and other fields.

Nancy Shute is a senior writer at US News & World Report, where she covers science and medicine, writes the OnParenting blog, and produces audio and video for the US News website. As an assistant managing editor at US News, she directed the magazine’s science and technology coverage. Nancy often appears as a guest on radio and television, including NPR, CNN, CBS, NBC, WETA and WTOP. She authored a chapter on taking your writing to the next level in “A Field Guide for Science Writers” (Oxford, 2005). Nancy serves as vice president of the National Association of Science Writers, and led NASW’s effort to live-Twitter its 2008 workshops. She teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced Academic Programs, and has been a guest speaker at Columbia University, New York University, the University of Maryland, the University of California-Santa Cruz, and science writer in residence at the University of Wisconsin. While a Fulbright Scholar in Kamchatka, Russia, Nancy founded the region’s first independent bilingual newspaper. Prior to joining US News, she freelanced for magazines including Smithsonian, Health, The New York Times Magazine and Outside.

Denise Graveline‘s consultancy is called don’t get caught, and she helps her clients make sure they don’t get caught unprepared, speechless or behind the curve. She focuses on communication strategies, training and content development, often using social media tools, for clients in nonprofits, universities, government agencies and companies. Graveline, a former magazine journalist, directed communications for AAAS and the American Chemical Society, and was the Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, Education and Public Affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration. She’s active on Facebook and Twitter and publishes two blogs: don’t get caught news & info, on communications trends, and The Eloquent Woman, on women and public speaking.

3:00p-4:30p Break-out sessions

From Writing to Editing to Managing … and More

Ivan Amato, Chemical & Engineering News
Eva Emerson, Science News
Mitch Waldrop, Nature

Editors, Producers, Managing Editors, Editorial Directors … no matter what the title, many of the people occupying these exalted positions began life as writers and journalists. How did they make the transition? What new skills and responsibilities did they have to learn — and how did they learn them? How do they communicate with people in accounting, advertising, and personnel? Our panelists will describe their own experiences in taking on new roles, and will talk about what they’ve discovered and what they wish they had known earlier.

Videocasting: How?

Andrew Freeberg, NASA
Laurie Modena Howell, NSF
Jim Sliwa, MicrobeWorld/American Society for Microbiology

In the afternoon session, we’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of videocasting. We’ll expand on the discussion of resources (manpower, money and time), and talk about what types of equipment, software and other specifics science writers might need to get started.


Registration is now closed.