Black Journalists Pitch Their Stories to Advance Science

By Eunice Nuekie Cofie

At their fall 2015 conference, members of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) got the opportunity to share their story ideas to science magazine editors at the Science & Health Pitch Slam. The event featured five editors from major science magazines: Laura Helmuth (Science and Health Editor of Slate magazine), Mary Hoff (Editor in Chief of Ensia), Jenny Bogo (Executive Editor of Popular Science), Becky Lang (Senior Editor of Discover magazine), and Tim de Chant (Senior Digital Editor of Nova). Freelancer writer, Maggie Koerth-Baker, served as the moderator of the Pitch Slam.

Each of the magazine editors described their publication’s mission and what they were looking for in stories. Helmuth stated that Slate magazine has a broad focus on science articles. Slate magazine likes to feature articles that focus on in-time health and science stories, stories which have a personal perspective, and can make an argument or make you laugh.

The first pitch was given by Brittney Cummings whose story idea covered the partnership between Abbott Laboratories and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. Through this partnership, a Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory was established to study the how nutrition affects cognition. Cummings believes this new partnership could spearhead innovation in the development of infant formula which could help with infant brain development. The editors dove right in in providing Cummings with advice. A few of the suggestions included to find the character in the story especially those who have participated in the clinical trials and are being affected; provide a comparison of other similar efforts; look beyond for other applications of this study; and define what makes it rise above. Tim de Chant of Nova sees strong potential for this article idea for Nova because of its focus on neuroscience.

Devi Shastri, a junior double major in biomedical sciences and journalism at Marquette University found the event to be very a productive and an open environment to pitch and get feedback. She heard about the only science-writing focused session while at the NABJ conference. Shastri stated “the pitch process can be intimidating”. She learned a few principles to buffer that intimidation. Some of which include: 1) Good stories come from personal life experiences, 2) The editors are interested in helping writers grow, 3) You will get rejected and failure is a part of the process.

At the pitch slam, Shastri also learned about an environmental journalism mentorship program offered from the editor-and-chief of Ensia, Mary Hoff. The mentorship program pairs up and coming journalists who have an interest in environmental justice with professional journalists. This mentor helps to guide the novice journalist in developing their story idea for the publication. The professional journalist and mentee are also paid for their work in the program. Shastri says she thinks this is a great opportunity and is considering the internship.

Good stories come from personal life experiences

Moderator Koerth-Baker is co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) — an organization that helped sponsor the Pitch Slam. Koerth-Baker states that “CASW really wants to see a more diverse community of science journalists. We believe that one of the ways to achieve that is for the existing community to reach out and tell journalists of color that we want them to pitch stories and we want to publish articles that reflect a wider range of perspectives”.

Overall, the Pitch Slam proved to be a very informative and helpful to the journalists. Each person that pitched came away with advice and interest in their article suggestion. Based on the feedback given by the editors, it can be assured that each participant will become comfortable pitching to science publications.

The NABJ Pitch Slam panel (left to right) Maggie Koerth-Baker, Mary Hoff, Becky Lang, Jenny Bogo, Tim de Chant, Laura Helmuth, and session facilitator Alberto I. Roca.

Photo/image credits: NABJ (top) & A.I. Roca (middle & bottom)

The citation for this article is:
E.N. Cofie (2015) Black Journalists Pitch Their Stories to Advance Science. DiverseScholar 6:10

Eunice Nuekie Cofie is the Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Chemist of Nuekie, an innovative health and beauty company for people of color. Eunice is a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati studying Pharmaceutical Sciences with a specialization in Cosmetic Science. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry/molecular biology from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and a certificate in Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century from Harvard Kennedy School of Government Executive Education program. Cofie attended the Science Writers 2015 conference on a DiverseScholar NASW Diversity Travel Fellowship; and, this article was her reporting assignment based upon a recording of the Pitch Slam session. Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


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Published 24-Dec-2015