How newsy science becomes Science News

Nancy ShuteHelping people stay up to speed on the latest advances in science is a big part of our mission at Science News. We’re aiming for sophisticated and succinct, in a way that works for readers’ busy lives. That means making tough decisions on which of the countless scientific papers being published are worthy of coverage and what breaking news has science that needs explanation and context. Disease outbreak? Volcanic eruption? We’re on it. 

That winnowing process starts with our beat reporters talking to sources and reading embargoed journal articles. The reporters then pitch our news editors in person or via e-mail. If a potential story gets the thumbs up, the reporter interviews the scientists who did the research and other experts in the field, writes the story and sends it to the news editors. The visuals team tracks down photos and creates data visualizations. Editors and writers work together to come up with headlines that will sing on our website and on social media. 

After several rounds of editing, a story makes it to our digital editors, who publish the story on the Science News website and post it to social media. But only a selection of the stories published online make it into the magazine. Managing editor Erin Wayman performs that triage. 

“Every issue’s news section reflects the range of research done in science,” Wayman says. “Some studies have vital, imminent real-world implications, such as the clinical trial in Congo that’s testing potential Ebola therapies amid the ongoing outbreak there.” You can read about it in Aimee Cunningham’s story “Congo’s Ebola outbreak is a testing ground for new treatments.”

And then there are stories that surprise us, like those that show how much we still have to learn about our planet. A great example is the story by Emily Conover on how physicists used subatomic particles called muons to study the inner workings of a storm. “It turns out the voltages in a thundercloud are about 10 times higher than we previously thought,” Wayman told me. “That’s one of the things I love most about my job — I’m always learning something new.” 

We hope you’ll enjoy the selection. And we invite you to visit our website if you just can’t wait until the next issue. 

Nancy Shute is editor in chief of Science News Media Group. Previously, she was an editor at NPR and US News & World Report, and a contributor to National Geographic and Scientific American. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers.

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