Are You Ready for Helsinki?


Turns out, Helsinki doesn’t look like this anymore. Image: Helsinki University Library.

Hi there, remember us? It’s been a few weeks, as we all got caught up in work and travels, but we’re still here! The World Conference of Science Journalists is right around the corner so let’s look back for a second at what we’ve done so far, and then forward to what our panelists are looking forward to most.

Once you met us, we started to ask questions and a bimonthly “Question Time.” First, we wondered whether or not having a beat (or obsession, in the new trendy jargon) was really that important. Then we asked what new journalists should do to get noticed. After that we talked about women (you might have noticed the makeup of the panel) – and how to get more of them in senior positions at publications. Then it was breaking news time, and we all reflected on the role of science journalists during tragic events like the Boston bombings. And to round it out, we asked whether science journalists had an obligation to educate.

Phew. Lots of stuff. So now what? Well, there are a few weeks until the conference, so here’s what each panelist is looking forward to:


Lena Groeger

Its hard to believe our adventure in Helsinki is coming up so soon, but here are my three main concerns/priorities going into this panel.

1. Be Useful

I really hope we can make this panel the most useful panel possible. Hearing experiences and anecdotes can be inspiring or interesting to some people, but I think its harder to walk away with real lessons. Obviously it’s impossible to try to reach every case and individual, but one of our priorities will be trying to cater what we discuss to specific interests of the audience. We’ve done a bit of audience outreach with our Twitter discussions, and gotten a sense of which topics might be the most fruitful to pursue. But turning those discussions into real takeaways and lessons is another challenge. Condensing down our thoughts into actual, actionable tips might be hard, but I think it might have more impact. Any ideas? Send ‘em our way!

2. Be a Real Debate

I’m looking forward to actually having a debate! As much as we all agree with each other in many respects, panels where everyone agrees are boring. So I know that at least some of the topics we may discuss (should journalists learn to code? do you need a “brand”?) etc, may have some differing opinions. I’m excited to actually explore those questions and disagreements in a productive way.

3. Get Some Converts

I imagine that not everything we say will be uncontroversial and it might even be a bit unsettling for some people. Obviously we’re not hoping to cause any pain or outrage, but I do hope we say something that – for at least a few people – is shocking and maybe changes their mind about what path to take to go into science journalism, where to turn if they are already in the field, or even what science journalism IS (or is becoming). If we can get people talking, questioning, and debating, I think we’ve done our job.


Erin Podolak

Nearly 10 months ago Bora first floated the idea of participating in a panel at the World Conference of Science Journalists to Rose, Lena, Kathleen and I. What seemed like so far ahead in the distance is now right around the corner. As the anticipation has built so has the sense of excitement and a good dose of nerves. A few of the ideas/concerns that have been rattling around in my brain lately include:

1. Value/Interest

Bora has done a terrific job of breaking down what it means to be a “killer science journalist of the future” and now we need to bring our A game to show exactly how science journalism has shifted and where it is headed. I really hope that the audience at WCSJ will want to have a discussion with us. What I don’t want to do is come across like meddling, know-it all, kids. We aren’t, and that isn’t at all the message we’re trying to get across. I hope the audience will see we are sincere in wanting to have a constructive conversation about what being a science journalist now entails for someone just starting their career, and where we think our careers and the profession as a whole are heading.

2. Squash Imposter Syndrome

Being nervous is one thing, but feeling like you don’t deserve to have a voice or a platform is another. As a vast generalization, writers have a tendency to be a self-deprecating bunch, and I’ve noticed imposter syndrome quite a lot among science writing friends and colleagues. There is a sense that I will never know enough (about science or about writing) or accomplish enough (grab the big prestigious clips, publish a book, make enough money) to warrant my telling anyone about anything. Questions like, “so why were YOU chosen for this?”  (Yup, I’ve gotten those already) can either get under your skin or they can inspire you. Yes I am young, yes I am female, and yes I have things of value to share. Squashing imposter syndrome is one thing that led me to shift my blog to covering science writing as a career more than showcasing my own science writing. The different types of people who now fall under the umbrella of science communication are more diverse than ever.  I hope that with this panel we can show a little bit about why this matters and why we need to listen to different voices.

3. Expand Our Community

I’ve loved doing the #sci4hels question time because we’ve gotten to hear from so many people about their thoughts on the wide range of topics that we’ve chosen to tackle. I’m excited to branch beyond Twitter (though we’ll still be listening there too) to reach other people from all around the world. I’m looking forward to continuing these and more conversations online and off because you never know who you might encounter and how what they know and what they have to share could change the way you think. As much as I want to share what we know and have value, the attendees at WCSJ and people following along online around guaranteed to teach me things too.


As for me (Rose Eveleth here) I’m gearing up to moderate these unruly panelists, which involves a weight training regimen and a lot of googling for things like “how to not fail at moderating a panel.” Oh wait, I violated Erin’s idea #2, whoops!

But in reality, I’m really excited to try and foster an interesting and thoughtful discussion. Like Lena, I’m hoping the panel is lively and useful – a place where panelists can disagree and everybody can actually learn something new. Like Erin, I’m excited to meet new people from all parts of the career curve in science journalism, and hear what they have to say. So, to that end, I’d love to invite you – whether you’re going to WCSJ or not – to add to our question bank. Yes, that’s right, I’m outsourcing my only job as a moderator (coming up with questions) to you, fine internet! But really, I want to know what you want to know from us. What did we leave out in our discussions thus far? What are we ignoring? What are we wrong about? What should we know or discuss or see before this show gets on the road? Tell us here:

I’ll read them all and try to include them in our discussion. Seriously! I will!

Kathleen Raven 

In a story about young feminists who visit a matriarch of the movement, the older woman asks the young renegades to name the female subjects in oil paintings that hang in her parlor. The younger women look long and hard, but can offer no names. They leave chagrined, but the better for it after researching those who created the very first path through society’s entanglements and barriers.

Ever since the invention of the written word, which caused orators worry the human race would lose all perspective and knowledge, humans have feared change. As the oldest member of the panel, I remember piecing together the contents of the weekly newspaper I worked for using a hot wax machine and graph paper. Now we all work in a world where writers are increasingly brands and self-promotion is necessary. I’m still scared by some of it. But terribly excited by all of it. Social media is yet another step in the way we communicate. I should note that I’ve given up on Facebook. (I officially severed ties with all friends and completely closed my account, though who knows how long my information will float around.) However, I’m enamored with Twitter as a tool for communication and research. Instagram, so loved by the teenager population, is part of my daily social media toolkit. Though we only have 90 minutes in our panel to cover the most pressing questions of the audience (which can be conveniently submitted through the form created by Rose), we may have time to touch on social media tools pros and cons.

Now, a word about our panel and the future. First, I’d like to clarify the definition of “killer.” It is used in this context according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary’s definition: “slang : one who gives an admirable or irresistible personal or sartorial impression” (p. 1242 — in the ahem, paper, version). I think I speak for all of us when we will strive for an admirable personal impression. But even that word carries much weight. In the English language, “admirable” and “admiral” can play tricks on the ears. We know that one doesn’t earn the rank of admiral until late in a career, after much toil and risk. We will sit on a panel and expect to learn as much from the audience as we hope the audience may learn from us.

Bora has some of his own thoughts about our recent conversations over here at his blog. As usual, the blogfather has a lot of thoughts, but here are some that connect to what Erin, Lena and I have said thus far. He mentions networking and self promotion:

Understanding that self-promotion is not a dirty word the way it was in the 20th century. With a glut of information, and glut of overall online communication, it is necessary for the author to be seen and heard above the din. The only way to do this is to have the link circulate widely online, especially on social media. For the link to appear on social media in the first place, the author has to place it there first. If the piece is accurate, well documented, and well written, it will be spread around. For the link posted by the author to be seen, the author has to have sufficient number of people to send it to, particularly people who already trust and respect the author. Thus, building and nurturing one’s own community of friends, colleagues and readers, and being a part of other people’s similar circles, reciprocating the goodwill, is essential. This is the essence of the principle of horizontal loyalty (or “Friends In Low Places”).

And about whether having a beat or topic is really the most important thing:

Or, if your passion is not any narrow topic, then your expertise – or your signature stuff, something for which people will keep coming back over and over again to check your work – may be something else: absolutely beautiful writing, or amazing visuals, or stunning art or photography, or video, or animation, or hand-coded interactive infographics, or whatever makes you excited. If you are excited, your readers will be excited, too. They will support you, tell their friends about you, and make you successful in the process. As long as the basic journalistic ethics and the additional online ethics are met, it is this added passion that will make the difference between successful writers and those who are…not so much…

And dispenses some #realtalk:

Yes, sometimes you’ll have to write a dull article for money. Perhaps too often. But the pieces that will really take off – and the pieces that will bring the reputation and trust, not just traffic – are pieces that are written with passion. So, follow your own curiosity and find your passion. Find your own obsession and turn it into your beat. Become a Go-To expert on the topic of your obsession. Ditch the boring old inverted pyramid (it was invented due to space limits of paper, something that vanished online) and start writing in an exciting way.


So, we hope you’re excited to join us in Finland, whether in the flesh or on the internet. Stay in touch, we certainly will.


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