Friday, September 05, 2008

Auntie Em Joins the Fourth Estate (End of week one)

10a.m., Science Media Centre, Albermarle St

I'm attending a briefing on organ donation. A group of experts believes that the plans to change to an "opt out" law are based faulty reasoning as well as being ethically questionable. I go along a sceptic and come away with serious food for thought. I listen and learn as the experienced reporters lob questions at the end.

Afternoon, FT Headquarters

Back at the office I try to pitch the transplant story to the UK news editor as a long-ish policy piece but space is, as ever, short and there is nothing that makes the story particularly timely so I'm given 400 words to get the main ideas across. I run to 800 and have to cut back significantly. With Clive's help I end up filing 590 words - 190 words over my brief. It's the first time I've overfiled. Is this end-of-the-week lack of discipline or a measure of how strongly the arguments have shaken my view. Either way it's not my decision, it's the editors and it's my job to write to the brief, not to what I wish the brief was.

I pick up a copy of the UK edition in order to clip my science briefing. A weekly column of about 500 words, and Clive has let me write it myself (with his good guidance). It pales into insignificance next to his piece on the LHC. I'm a long way from writing as cogently.

Clive helps me file three stories for Monday - one UK science, one world science and the transplant piece. I'm not sure which, if any, will make it but watching Clive make deft changes is an education in itself. I learn how to cut an ugly sentence full of numbers, and how to make the introductory sentence pithier. I wish I could bottle what I'm learning now.

Amano Cafe 4.30p.m.

With everything filed I leave the office to read some briefings for the next week. I've also had an offer for a story that Clive is interested in. I ring my source and clarify the scheduling. I advise him not to launch anything next week as a) most of the science journalists will be in Liverpool for the BA science festival and b) both the LHC and GOCE are launching on Wednesday next week.

I share what I know about the rhythms of science news: like the days on of the week which the major journals' embargoes expire and the days that are easier to fill. It feels strange to be giving advice to someone who in every other respect is more intelligent, more experienced and much more knowledgeable than I am. It's nice to share.

Tomorrow I head for Liverpool for a week of festival goodness.

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