As a science writing intern I get to skip the conventional newsroom experience and start writing a beat of my choice—I like to call it the “nerd” beat. By that I mean I cover science and topics outside of science that require some academic curiosity such as history and cultural anthropology.
In a lot of ways I do the same things that I did in my college classes or even on my own time. I read, I take notes, I write up the notes in the appropriate format. Specifically, I may read a newly-published journal article written by a University of Arkansas professor, note all the interesting facts, compose a news release, and submit it to the researcher to review for, what I call, “factual accuracy.”
However, many professors read “factual accuracy” as “write as you would for a research proposal.” Instead of checking to make sure I used their information correctly, they invert the journalistic inverted pyramid style, alter active sentences into passive ones or add jargon that does not need to be there. This is particularly true if I took a class from the professor.
On the other hand, edits from researchers may enhance a story. I cannot pretend to understand everything about photovoltaic cells or engineered biomaterials. Some researchers read the facts I have, even quotes, and rewrite those sentences. Not only do the new statements make sense (which they did in the first place) but they mentally click and become memorable.
In retrospect, perhaps the “nerd” beat has only so much to do with writing science topics and a lot to do with interacting with the top tier of nerds. A major university hosts a diverse crowd and I get to meet far more of them as a writing intern than as a student.