Professional Development Day 2014

D.C. Science Writers Association

2014 Professional Development Day

Saturday, April 12

AGU Headquarters

2000 Florida Ave, NW, Washington, D.C.

Follow the @DCSWA Prof Dev Day online #DCSWA14

This event funded in part by an NASW Idea Grant.



Book Track

PIO Track

Freelance Track

8:30 – 9:00 a.m.




Sign-up for a 15-minute slot at the main registration table.

9:00 – 9:30 a.m.

Welcome and Newsbrief Award Presentation

9:30 – 10:30 a.m.

Morning Plenary: David Kaplan

(Room A)

10:45 a.m. – Noon

Breakout Sessions

Recipes for a Bestseller (Room B)

Citizen Science and Crowd Sourcing

(Room A)

Getting Paid for Your Blog (Room C)

Noon – 1:15 p.m.

LUNCH: Network and learn about fellowships and graduate programs

1:15 – 2:30 p.m.

Breakout Sessions

How to Write Science Beautifully (Room C)

Best Frenemies (Room A)

Life after Journalism (Room B)

2:45 – 4:00 p.m.

Breakout Sessions

Ethics and Social Media (Room A)

Infographics: Making Compelling Content

Understandable (Room C)

Pitch Slam (Terrace Room)


Meet upstairs at Bistro Du Coin for informal, no-host networking



Board Room

Sign-up for a 15-minute slot with Amy Leighton, “All Resume Writing Service,” at the main registration table.

9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. WELCOME AND NEWSBRIEF AWARD


Room A

Winner: Meghan Rosen, staff writer, Science News

9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. PLENARY SESSION

Room A

David Kaplan, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins

How to Communicate Complex Science through Film

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Particle Fever, an exciting new feature-length documentary about the hunt for the Higgs boson. Producer and physicist David Kaplan will talk about the techniques he and his fellow filmmakers used to communicate complicated science to the public.

10:45 a.m. – Noon BREAKOUT SESSIONS


Citizen Science and Crowd Sourcing: Innovative Tools that Can Assist Reporting and Engage New Audiences

Examine how science journalists and public information officials at scientific institutions can use new citizen science and crowd-sourcing tools and techniques as sources of information and ways to build and engage the public, attract new audiences, and promote civic engagement in their issue areas. Panelists will explore how these efforts have been used by the media to date and give specific coverage examples. They will also look at how federal agencies are implementing President Obama’s commitment to citizen science and open data, which may lead to an explosion of citizen-generated data that can be used in many ways.

Rebecca French, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Willie Shubert, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network

John Amos,


Recipes for a Bestseller: Insider Tips on Book Writing

Every now and then, a popular science book will capture the imagination of the masses, become a fixture on bookstore shelves, and maybe even find its way onto bestseller lists. Often it’s the people behind the scenes — editors and literary agents — who make the difference. In this session, agents and editors share tips for turning your idea into a successful pitch, reading your early drafts with a critical eye, and polishing your manuscript into a book that will be widely read and enjoyed.

Gail Ross, Ross-Yoon

Pat Fitzgerald, Columbia University Press


Getting Paid for Your Blog, or Why Write for Free?

Being a freelance writer once largely meant writing articles that you submitted to an editor for publication in a magazine. Journalism has undergone a seismic shift. Blogging is a major new medium that allows direct communication with your audience, but there’s no one on the other end to pay you directly for your work. So where’s the money? How do you turn your writing into money? What are the new business models for earning a living? What are the mechanisms and opportunities for getting paid? Are there standards and do-and-don’t rules? Are there gatekeepers? Is search engine optimization the key to success? And, what do paths to success look like?

Sarah Zielinski, Smithsonian’s “Surprising Science” and “Wild Things” at Science News

Christine Dell A’more, National Geographic’s “Weird & Wild”

Ann Finkbeiner, “The Last Word on Nothing”

Jason Samenow,Washington Post’s “Capital Weather Gang”

Virginia Hughes, National Geographic’s “Only Human”

Noon – 1:15 p.m. LUNCH TIME

Enjoy time to mingle, network, or hear about science writing graduate programs and fellowships. Check out the display table information.

1:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. BREAKOUT SESSIONS


Best Frenemies: PIOs and Journalists

The line between career public information officer and journalist is an increasingly fuzzy border. Join a discussion of the ethics of crossover between these two professions. Should a person who has worked as a PIO be barred from certain types of journalism jobs? How do you identify a conflict of interest? And what should freelancers use as their ethical compass if they are writing both news stories and press releases to make their livings? What is the definition of a PIO today, and does it carry a taint? Can science press officers better relay science information than reporters, and if so under what circumstances?

Mitch Waldrop,Nature

Ashley Yeager, Science News

Curt Suplee, National Institute for Standards and Technology

Aries Keck, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Life After Journalism

It’s sad but true. People leave journalism, sometimes by choice, sometimes not. Many take other jobs communicating science to the public — PIO, book author. But the ability to communicate clearly about what most people find hard to understand is a skill that is always in demand. This session will share stories of one-time journalists who have moved on and examine some out-of-the-box career tracks journalists looking for an exit might consider. It will close with advice about how to go about repackaging yourself to make a career leap.

David Kohn, University of Maryland

Nancy Touchette, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases

August Jackson, Ernst and Young

Lenore Webb, George Washington University


How to Write Science Beautifully

Panel members will talk about how to write about science in a way that is not only functional, in the sense of translating or explaining science, but also literary and maybe even beautiful. This could include tricks or ways of thinking while writing, as well as specific examples from panelists’ own writing or other people’s writing. Panelists will also share tips for writing in a way that can survive the editing process.

Ann Finkbeiner, freelance science writer

Virginia Hughes, science journalist

Sam Kean, author

Florence Williams,Outside Magazine and freelance writer

2:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. BREAKOUT SESSIONS


Ethics and Social Media

Did BuzzFeed go too far when it ran a story that collected the Twitter posts of sexual assault survivors who tweeted their answer to the question, “What were you wearing when you were assaulted?” Does a blogger discussing his cancer drugs have to disclose if he’s being paid by a pharmaceutical company? Is it possible to interview someone over Twitter? Are a public figure’s Tumblr page or Pinterest wall fair game? If we’re all posting everything to Facebook all the time, aren’t we all public figures? This open discussio looks at the brave new world of social media, how it fits into traditional journalist ethics,and where the lines exists between public and private content, or if that line is now gone.

Tyler Gray, Gray Street Solution

Natalie Jennings, Washington Post

John C. Watson, American University


Infographics: Making Compelling Content Understandable

Infographcs and data visualization are not synonymous but both are terms for communicating information visually. With the growth of their use, it’s important to understand where their value lies. It’s not about creating big media products to ensure your content includes the latest novelty but instead that graphics are crafted thoughtfully to make data and information more clear and digestible. Learn what they are, why they can be a valuable part of your content strategy, and best practices for creating meaningful (not distracting) visualizations of information and data to accompany the written word.

Adam Cole, National Public Radio

Frank J. Pietrucha, author, speaker, and consultant

Jarrett Cohen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Pitch Slam

For this year’s pitch slam, freelancers will meet one-to-one with editors of their choice for about five minutes, to pitch a story idea. The editors will provide guidance on improving the pitch or the story idea itself, while suggesting possible publications if the story is not suitable for themselves. You may pitch to as many editors as you wish, one at a time, and one story idea at a time. Sign up for time slots at registration.

Anne Bolen, National Wildlife:intriguing animal behaviors, scientific discoveries about wildlife and the environment, and issues affecting native species and their habitat, particularly those on which the National Wildlife Federation focuses.

Matt Crenson, Science News: interested in stories that reveal the mechanisms of science as they report its latest results.

Heather Goss,Air & Space/Smithsonian: long-form astronomy, spaceflight, and historical aviation stories.

Laura Helmuth,Slate: any field of health or science, especially if the story makes a strong argument or is quirky, funny, surprising, or counterintuitive.

Jane Lee,National Geographic: writers who can help them tell meaningful stories in unforgettable ways.

David Malakoff, Science: all kinds, from few hundred word items on new research discoveries and timely policy issues to long-form narratives in all areas of the sciences.

Elizabeth Quill,Smithsonian: science itself and any subject that intersects with it.

Mitch Waldrop,Nature: physical sciences but will listen to pitches in any field.