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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  August 2008  /  Department Student gets involved in journalism at the offices of New Scientist

Department Student gets involved in journalism at the offices of New Scientist

Angela Self worked at the news desk of New Scientist for two weeks as part of her winning prize for a 2007 Wellcome Trust/New Scientist essay.

Department Student gets involved in journalism at the offices of New Scientist

Angela Self spent two weeks working at New Scientist and here she describes her experience working at their offices:


Working at New Scientist (Angela Self)

It’s an old joke – how many journalists does it take to change a light bulb and the answer is always some ridiculously high number.  But if you had asked me until recently how many people does it take to produce New Scientist my answer would have been a ridiculously small underestimation.

As part of my prize for winning the 2007 Wellcome Trust/New Scientist essay I was invited to work on the news desk at the London office of New Scientist for two weeks.  The first thing that strikes you immediately is the number of people involved.  There were approximately ten people working on news and technology items, ten to twelve on the website, four on page layout, two producing graphs and diagrams, two in charge of images, add to that editors, sub-editors, features editors, ‘back page’ staff, sales, marketing etc.  In total approximately fifty people work in the London office, fifteen to twenty in Boston, four in San Francisco, two in Melbourne and Sydney, plus a network of freelance journalists worldwide.  It is an immense news gathering organisation covering all areas of science.

As a weekly publication, deadlines are tight.  The working week starts Wednesday with research for the following week’s edition.  Items due for press release Thursday, Friday or Saturday of the current week are generally rejected as ‘old news’ for the following week.  Articles for the longer news items are researched and written Thursday to Friday and must be with the editor by Friday afternoon. Shorter ‘in brief’ items are researched and written Monday to Tuesday and ’60 seconds’ summaries on Tuesday morning.  By mid-afternoon everything must be finished, edited, proof-read and compiled, ready to go to the printers.

The amount of research involved in every article is really impressive.  For every article we would talk to the main author to discuss their findings, methods and what they considered important, trying to tease out the essence of the work and a ‘good quote.’  For longer items we would also talk to someone with perhaps a more negative view of the research and other independent experts in the field to give a more balanced view.  All this research would then be condensed into 100 – 250 words. The language may be lightweight but this is not ‘gossip column’science.

Once you had produced your two hundred words it would go to the editor who would chop and change it, then the sub-editor would check it was understandable to the non-expert, back to the editor for changes and inserting in the page layout and back to the sub-editors for page-proofing. Images were then inserted with art checks to check the printed colours and finally the whole layout would be sent to the colour house for final checks before going to the printers.  If the subject was likely to be contentious it would also have to be checked by the lawyers.  At times specific wording would be going to and fro between the lawyers and journalists until the last minute.

It was an amazing experience.  I would like to thank everyone at New Scientist who made it possible and if you ever have a good story let me know!


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