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Ryan Domitz

Rhetorical Situation
SUBJECT: Environmental Science Journalism
EXIGENCE: Journalism in the field of environmental science employs to inform the public of
the effects we have as consumers on the planet we live in. For some, this news often takes
precedence over others, as ongoing global practices are believed to be steadily deteriorating the
world in which we live in and at an increasing rate no less. As the world of journalism changes
its pace to meet the digital era, and print appears to be a dying breed, environmental science
makes no exception. In my degree, Im currently pursuing in Biology, I have been interested in
the field of science and math; now its time to excite others into loving science and discovery as
much I do!
AUDIENCE: The audience is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this topic. Environmental
science holds no bias over the population of people it affects. While local factors having more
immediate and proximal effects to natives, the environment is just that, the place we all live.
However, environmental science is not simply limited to air pollution or greenhouse gasses, but
also includes agricultural, economic, and societal aspects. How do the foods we eat, and the
forms of energy we produce as a state, a country, a continent, or a species affect us? Just to start,
the world is run off of fossil fuels today; as those non-renewable resources are exhausted,
aspects of the economy and culture will have to make adaptations to acclimate to a changing
environment. The gravity of environmental science, and the field of publishing in which it lies,
will become immediately more paramount to everyone in an active first world market.

PURPOSE: After reading this essay the reader will be familiar with the market of
Environmental Science Journalism, how to approach the market should one be interested in
entering, what form the market has taken in todays world, and how to write for the audience and
publishers that look for that genre of writing.
CONSTRAINTS: As far as limitations environmental science requires a great deal of
objectivity, as well ample evidence to support ones facts, all the while resisting the urge to jump
to ones own conclusions. Nor should the facts be elaborated or underplayed as fear mongering
articles or fact-less rebuttals are not ethical nor the aim of this field. It is to inform, not interpret,
nor analyze subjectively. The audience, moreover, is implied to have a very basic understanding
of geological science, but does not require the audience to be composed of scientists.

Environmental Science Journalism

by: Ryan Domitz

Home Sweet Home


Today information spreads across the globe faster than ever before in history. Stunning
and marvelous discoveries are made on almost a daily basis and vary from the vast range of
specialized fields, all of which lie under the domain of science. Within the realm of relaying
often obscure semantics with even less tangible concepts, environmental science journalism
stresses accuracy whilst deciphering the enigmatic hieroglyphs of science to a broader, general
audience. How does oil fracking affect local water supply? What are the adverse effects of
government subsidized farming monocultures? How do global temperature effects span as far as
determining sea level or commercial agriculture? These are pressing questions, and they have
demanding solutions that are in need of public attention. Environmental Journalism helps
people, as consumers and producers, to make better informed decisions involving the world
around them.

In the Field
The science sections in newspapers seem to be dying out. Christopher Zara, from the
International Business Times attributes sciences irrelevance in newspapers due to its demand
for high specialty oriented writers. In twenty four years since 1989, newspapers with a weekly
science section had plummeted from 95 to 19. This has been indicated as a result of the overall
forty percent drop in the newspaper industry according to a survey by the U.S. Department of
Labors Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, there is hope still. The digital world has been pushing
print to the backburner for a while now.
As digital media blooms, environmental science may flourish in some of its light as
writers have the capacity to engage a broader audience than ever before. Bio Journals Be
Found or Perish: Writing Scientific Manuscripts for the Digital Age delves into meeting the
digital readers by confronting the age old publish or perish adage. It elaborates how to
produce articles with ample marketing, using tactfully chosen titles, visuals, and most
importantly, a solid abstract. The filter system (examples such as Google and Yahoo were used)
of the vast interdisciplinary field makes relevant and identifiable articles remain unlost among
the myriad of information available. Thus a successful writer knows how to make their article
accessible, by not only naming it appropriately, but by publishing it in a medium that demands
that field of study. Finding good blogs to establish oneself, or online journals that possess
information of pertinence to ones own work is a good step towards effectively networking, and
establishing a credible name in the science community. Science blogs like Live Science, Dot
Earth, and TreeHugger are just a few examples of successful online environmental journalism.
Browsing some of these blogs can help get a better general idea of the style and direction of

writing for the environment, as well as to familiarize how to bridge infamous science jargon into
the publics vocabulary.

Robert Irion, the Director of The Science Communication Program at UC Santa Cruz,
shed some light about the active field and how to guarantee a job in science writing. Graduate

THE aBSTRACT

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also stresses the necessity of at least one complete internship as well. Irion keeps market data on
graduating students in his program. Of the past fifty (ten a year), since 2012 from Irions article,
14 have published for an institute or university, 9 pursued freelance, 9 classical media, 6 online
news, 3 biomedical writers, 4 multimedia producers for research institutes, and the rest went on
with further schooling or publish in a variety mediums. This simply illustrates the diversity
under the science writing umbrella with which to acquire a career.

Get To Work
Okay so networking and internships are done: what now? Environmental science is
delivered in the form of scientific journals, magazines, blogs, as well as print. The job of an
environmental science writer is to now find something to write about! Beth Winegarner, poet
and freelance scientific journalist, tells in an article about how to get jobs as a freelance
journalist by researching the publishers. The colloquial tone, audience, and style of writing is

often tailored to not just an audience, but also publisher acting as the billfold. The idea is to
sweeten the pitch, by knowing where to sell it. Magazines like National Geographic or The
Sierra Magazine might hold a higher professional standard and thus might expect the tone of an
article to fit accordingly. Winegarner suggests to therefore research whats the right pitch to the
right publisher. She elaborates, when pitching ideas to editors, more is better. Throw twenty
ideas, under one broader category, and one of them will take. Before one can appeal to an
audience, the story has to appeal to a publisher so being unique and standing out among the
crowd isnt necessarily a bad thing. The market is competitive, so Winegarner attributes her
success in her ability to have what other aspiring writers simply lacked.
But wait a minute, environmental journalism isnt limited to working through publishers.
The National Association of Science Writers illuminated the option of self-publishing. It grants
complete freedom as far as what to write and for whom to write it. However doing so passes the
burden of marketing, producing, and distributing to the writer himself. This option is best
prescribed for those who believe they possess an unspoken niche in the market, but are unable to
receive enough commercial interest for it. The internet has vastly contributed to the efficiency of
the self-publishing market. Existent as blogs, how tos, and databases, the internet allows a huge
platform for unpublished writers to market themselves.
Interviewing the Pros

Khalil Cassimallys Operation Database of the Future is a


public google doc spreadsheet, designed as a tool for new science
writers to gain access to successful pitches, tricks of the trade,
advice, as well a network of writers already working in the field!

The following is taken from an interview with American


science, nature, and conservation writer David Quammen,
author and columnist for Outsude Magazine for over fifteen
years.
Q: In your opinion what studies have contributed the most to
our understanding of ecology and conservation in a significant
way?
A: I think the most important scientific insight of the last forty years for conservation was the
recognition of island biogeography, fragmented landscapes and corridors. That begins with
Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson. I've documented that in The Song of the Dodo,
probably ad nauseum.
Q: Are there areas of conservation science that require more focus?
A: Yes, infectious diseases are emerging rapidly as a new area for ecological research For
instance, it was considered a canonical rule that malaria could not be transmitted between
humans and other species, and that the malaria vector carries it only between humans. Now
scientists researching in Borneo have documented a fifth species of malarial
parasites, Plasmodium knowlesi, which can be transmitted between humans and macaques. I
respect the noble goals of Bill and Melinda Gates when they say they want to eradicate malaria.
But I hope that their scientific advisers are thinking about all these other factors too.
Q: You yourself have written several influential books, what are the books that you yourself
have been influenced by?

A: Well, I love Charles Darwin's work. Learning about Darwin and Wallace has been very
important to me. I am surprised at how many biologists have not read Darwin or Wallace
directly. I enjoyed Edward O Wilson's books, including The Theory of Island
Biogeography and Biophilia. Charles Eltons Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants has
been very important to me. As also early Stephen Jay Gould and J.B.S. Haldane's popular
essays. The Growth of Biological Thought and Systematics and the Origin of Species by Ernst
Mayr have been influential. My favorite book of Jane Goodall is her scientific work, The
Chimpanzees of Gombe. Sarah Hardy wrote The Woman that Never Evolved, a very interesting
book about gender and evolution.

Science Writer Viviane Callier, Ph.D. writes for a consulting company in DC that
supports the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Q: How and when did you become interested in science writing? And, how did you prepare to
get a job as a science writer?
A: I started science writing and journalism as a hobby in graduate school. The writing allowed
me to stay in touch with the science that was going on around me. Writing and blogging gave me
an excuse to ask others about their work. When I moved for my postdoc, I continued to write for
the university magazine at ASU. Writing for the Duke University Blog and the magazine at ASU
were invaluable experiences in preparing me for a job in science writing because they gave me

the opportunity to get feedback from practicing science journalists and to learn about the
differences between journalistic writing versus academic writing.
Q: Do you think your PhD gives you unique advantages or disadvantages in the science writing
world?
A: My PhD is an advantage because it allows me to understand highly technical documents and
meeting discussions. I think it also makes it easier for scientists to talk to me about their science
without dumbing it down.
Q: What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about your job?
A: One of the best things about the writing job is that it gives me a broader perspective about
how science is funded and managed, and my job gives me a peek into the world of science
policy. In my role as a science writer, I get to be a fly on the wall at NIH and EPA meetings and
teleconferences. I get to see firsthand how workgroups are organized and how they move
projects forward
Thats a Wrap
Now is the time is to act! The world needs a voice, and the pressing issues that arise with
the influx of technology spawn more questions than answers. The issue is that many of the
problems that environmental science deal with involves scales in both size and time, that dont
immediately effect everyday life. Its easy as a reader, to blow off environmental science as
being too distal or pessimistic. However there remains hope yet still! Get out there, establish
credibility and a name as a writer, and whether its through scientific journals or columns in
online magazines, environmental science is a small branch off of the scientific publishing tree,

of which the whole world can benefit from being well informed. The digital age for media is in
the process of moving in, and as print dies in relevance the market for journalism is expanding.
As journalism flourishes, every branch of the publishing tree grows ever stronger. New
technology makes it easier for the public to get their hands on this sort of information. Online
filters, databases, and independently published blogs or books, make published work more
accessible, to a more specific audience. These are the advantages an environmental journalist
can reap as they approach the field of writing about the world we live in. How can oil fracking
effect the water supply? The chemicals used along with water to break up shale rock, releasing
natural gas inside, contaminates the ocean and ground water. Methane concentrations are 17x
higher in drinking water near fracking wells. What are the adverse effects of government
subsidized monocultures? Single specie crops are more susceptible to pests and disease, and thus
require large amounts of toxic fertilizers to be spread over the fields. Monocultures driven
through genetic modification have also been observed to have an accelerated natural selection in
pests, as an environmental response to the high proportionality of unsuccessful progeny. (I.e.
pests that resist environmental changes, rapidly pass on their resistances to offspring as
competition wanes.) These are just a few questions the world wants answers to. As an
environmental journalist, these questions posed are built to stir and promote awareness as well
as solutions for generations to come. In fact environmental journalism is just that, writing for the
future!

Bibliography
Callier, Viviane. "An Interview with Science Writer Viviane Callier, PhD." An Interview with
Science Writer Viviane Callier, Integrative Academic Solutions, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 18
Feb. 2015

Cassimally, Khalil A. "Pitch Database By Young Science Writers For Young Science Writers
The SA Incubator, Scientific American Blog Network."Scientific American Global RSS.
N.p., 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
Guide. Publish Be Found or Perish: Writing Scientific Manuscripts for the Digital Age (n.d.): n.
pag. Pubs.acs.org/bio. ACS Publications. Web.
Irion, Robert. "Quora." How Difficult Is It to Get a Salaried Job in Science Writing or
Journalism?. Science Communication Program UC, Santa Cruz, 25 July 2012. Web. 03
Feb. 2015.
Meredith, Dennis L. "Deciding to Become a Self-publisher | ScienceWriters
(www.NASW.org)." Deciding to Become a Self-publisher. National Association of
Science Writers, 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
Velho, Nandini, and Umesh Srinivasan. "An Interview with Conservation Writer David
Quammen." Mongabay. N.p., 04 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Winegarner, Beth. "6 Tips for Getting Gigs as a Freelance Journalist."Poynter. N.p., 2 Oct. 2012.
Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
Zara, Christopher. "Remember Newspaper Science Sections? They're Almost All
Gone." International Business Times. N.p., 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.