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This summer, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) received some assistance in educating the public about USGS science and the ongoing research that takes place in the USGS St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, FL. Hoping to develop links to local press and other media, center director Lisa Robbins initiated the first intern program for journalism students through an agreement with the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg (USF-SP). Ann Tihansky, a USGS hydrologist, coordinated efforts with Mark Walters, a USF-SP journalism professor, to offer a summer journalism intern program.
Walters and Tihansky both participate in a newly formed community forum, the "Community, Science, and Environmental Policy Brown Bag Discussion" group. The Brown Bag Discussion group, consisting of scientists, university professors, conservation groups, students, and the local community, recognized the need for better links between scientists and their community news outlets. To address this need, they organized a monthly forum to help scientists become more aware of each other's work and to develop links to media that will share scientific information with the local community. (See related Sound Waves articles, "Science on the Hot Seat in Public Forum About Coral Degradation" and "Hurricane Discussion Analyzes the Past, Provides Forum for Concerns About the Future."
Because few journalism students have scientific backgrounds and few scientists have media backgrounds, effectively communicating scientific information to the public is a challenge. In response, the journalism department at USF-SP recently established a science-writing program. Through this program, the department will provide the missing tools to both sides. Among the new courses to be offered at various times are "Communicating Science to the Public," "The Art and Craft of Science Writing," and "Writing About the Environment."
"By having both scientists and journalism majors in class together, we will be able to develop better lines of communication and mutual understanding," said Walters, who directs the new program. "We believe that the USGS will be an enormous resource for this program. We also believe that journalism faculty and students will become a growing resource for the USGS. The new internship program is just the beginning of this cross-pollination."
Two journalism studentsJohn Kucek, an undergraduate, and Vanessa Espinar, a graduate-level journalism major pursuing her Master's degreewere selected to participate in the new program. Both Kucek and Espinar were interested in gaining real-world writing experience, expanding their portfolios, and learning more about science in their community. They spent their summer learning about what scientists do and how to explain it to the general public through various media forms. Writing projects included press releases, internal articles about important events and scientific findings, and even a magazine article. The interns attended meetings and events and reported information through internal communications or USGS publications that relay scientific findings to USGS communication offices. In addition to learning about the science itself, the students learned about the importance of an objective writing style and internal USGS review. Both interns learned the value of photographs and figures to help illustrate concepts.
Along with her other assignments, Vanessa tackled an article about a new sampling technology dubbed "the UAVUnmanned Aerial Vehicle" that was submitted to the magazine GPS World. Tracking down scientists with busy schedules, working with various editors, and coordinating graphics gave Vanessa experience that made her appreciate what it takes to get something technical into print. "Scientists have all the technical knowledge but find it difficult to communicate it to the public," said Vanessa. "Journalists, on the other hand, have a link to the public but don't necessarily possess the technical expertise. This internship provided an opportunity for me to work together with scientists to get information out to the public. It also helped me see how journalism can be applied outside of a news organization."
Through the internship, John hoped to disseminate USGS information to the public. He relayed information about an upcoming congressional briefing by coastal scientist Abby Sallenger to USGS headquarters. "I, personally, enjoyed the small 'newsy'-type assignments, like the highlights, because, while it required a lot of digging, it went quickly into press, and the rewards were easy to see," he said. He also found that the internship exposed him to real-world reporting conditions and deadlines and that there are difficulties associated with the editing and review process. He commented, "None of these concepts had been taught to me in a classroom setting, so this was certainly a valuable experience for me."
Both Vanessa and John made numerous contributions to USGS communications, many of which are still in the publication mill, so keep your eyes out for their bylines.
in this issue:
Journalism Interns Help Get the USGS Word Out
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