Science Broadcasting: When Will I Be Famous?


We are children of a televisual age. And no matter how inspiring our school teachers were, I'm willing to bet that many of us can trace our fascination with science back to a TV show that we were regularly glued to as children. (Our parents didn't mind because it was educational, right?). I personally loved lots of science and wildlife programmes, but I can link my own determination to go into research to a docudrama about the discovery of the structure of DNA. (This had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the very lovely Jeff Goldblum played James Watson--honest. ...)

In reality, of course, doing research is rarely as exciting as are the edited highlights we see on our screens, so it's no surprise that some of us decide that talking and writing about it is a lot more fun than doing it. Which is why Next Wave's features on science journalism have been some of our most popular--and why we make no apology for revisiting the subject once again. But this is a journalism feature with a difference. Our previous offerings have been heavy on print. This time our focus is on the broadcast media--radio and TV.

We set out to research this topic with some trepidation. After all, opportunities for scientists to break into broadcasting have got to be few and far between, right? Wrong! OK, so it's true that it's easier to start out in journalism by writing for your university newspaper, and opportunities to try your hand at making your own radio show are harder to come by. But as the authors in this feature show, if you're determined and have a good story to tell, opportunities will present themselves. Several of our featured broadcasters started out as writers and were asked to take part in radio and TV shows because they'd proven they were good science communicators. Others made their own luck by tracking down internships, volunteering at local cable stations, and selecting the broadcast options on journalism courses.

And it seems that the number of opportunities for scientists to get involved in broadcasting may actually be on the increase. The proliferation of channels means that there is ever more airtime to fill--so why shouldn't it be you doing the filling?

Many journalists work in all three media--print, radio, and TV--but most have a favourite. Each has its own characteristics. Radio journalists tend to be DIY experts, operating their recording equipment and editing their own tapes, as well as researching stories and interviewing scientists. In the world of TV, you're more likely to find yourself as part of a large team. But as several of our authors warn, it's not always as glamorous as it may appear to the casual viewer!

And these days there is a fourth medium, which hovers somewhere between print and broadcast--the Web. We hear from two people who work in new media at the BBC about how the advent of interactive content is changing the way the Corporation thinks about developing its new programming to really try to involve the viewer or listener in what they're seeing or hearing.

Great technical expertise is not a prerequisite for a job in the broadcast media. But what you do need is a fantastic story and a passion for telling it. I look forward to hearing yours!

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