Weekly schedule

Schedule of Classes, Readings, Assignments and Tests

This schedule is subject to change. Changes will be announced in class and by email and posted on Blackboard. We have listed readings for each class, and we will assign additional readings during the semester. You must complete the readings before coming to class.

Week 1 (Overview)

Thursday, Aug. 25

Introduction to science journalism

Review syllabus

What should we name our magazine?

Homework assignment

Buy textbook

Week 2 (Learning the craft)

Tuesday, Aug. 30

Field Guide: Editors’ Note; Foreward; Introduction to “Part One: Learning the Craft”; and Chapter 1 (Finding Story Ideas and Sources)

The Legacy of Undark: Why Science Journalism Matters

Nieman Reports: “What Every Journalist Should Know About Science

Sense About Science USA

Homework assignment

Set up your blog

Wednesday, Aug. 31: End of add/drop and late registration

Thursday, Sept. 1

Field Guide: Chapter 4 (Writing Well About Science: Techniques From Teachers of Science Writing)

Readings by and about science journalist Bev Orndorff

Crash course in journalism writing

Homework assignments

Lead-writing exercise

Find two possible story ideas

Week 3 (Learning the Craft)

Tuesday, Sept. 6

Field Guide: Chapter 5 (Taking Your Story to the Next Level) and Chapter 6 (Finding a Voice and a Style)

Columbia Journalism Review: “Where do science journalists draw the line

PLOS.org: “When do you fact-check article content with sources?

Guest speaker: Bev Orndorff, retired science writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and author of George Gamow: The Whimsical Mind Behind the Big Bang

Selecting a focus for your first story

Interviewing skills

Journalism ethics and norms

Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics

Homework assignment

Contact the researcher or other sources for your story; set up an interview.

Thursday, Sept. 8

Field Guide: Chapter 2 (Reporting from Science Journals) and Chapter 3 (Understanding and Using Statistics)

Journalist’s Resource: “Statistical terms used in research studies: A primer for media

National Science Foundation: “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding”

How to do background research: General library resources for identifying what’s hot generally, and at specific institutions (e.g., VCU)

Homework assignment

Work on your first story.

Week 4 (Learning the Craft)

Tuesday, Sept. 13

Nieman Journalism Lab article: “A group of researchers is trying to help science journalists parse academic articles on deadline

Journalist’s Resource article: “Academic research and studies: How they work and why journalists should care

Journalist’s Resource article: “Eight questions to ask when interpreting academic studies: A primer for media

Columbia Journalism Review: “Skeptical of Science: Among other new roles, journalists becoming more critical of research

How to do background research: Subject-specific resources in social science

Homework assignment

Finish the draft of your first story.

Thursday, Sept. 15

A draft of your first story is due.

Outlets for science journalism

Field Guide: Introduction to “Part Two: Choosing Your Market”; Chapter 7 (Small Newspapers); Chapter 8 (Large Newspapers); Chapter 9 (Popular Magazines); Chapter 10 (Trade and Science Journals) and Chapter 11 (Broadcast Science Journalism).

Journalist’s Resource: “Research chat: Andrew Revkin on covering and using scholarship

Homework assignment

NewsU course: “Whose Truth: Tools for Smart Science Journalism in the Digital Age

Week 5 (Covering the Environment)

Tuesday, Sept. 20

Field Guide: Chapter 12 (Freelance Writing), Chapter 13 (Science Books); Chapter 14 (Popular Audiences on the Web); Chapter 15 (Science Audiences on the Web); and Chapter 16 (Science Editing)

Stuart Allen: “Introduction: Science Journalism in a Digital Age” (PDF)

23 and You” and other readings by and about Virginia Hughes, science editor at BuzzFeed News

A VCU life sciences librarian will address specific sources for ecological topics.

Selecting a focus for your second story

Thursday, Sept. 22

Google Hangout with Virginia Hughes, who is also a visiting scholar of journalism at New York University

Homework assignments

Watch “Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

Work on your second story.

Week 6 (Covering the Environment)

Tuesday, Sept. 27

Field Guide: Introduction to “Part Five: Covering Stories in the Physical and Environmental Sciences”; Chapter 32 (The Environment); and Chapter 33 (Nature)

Journalist’s Resource: “Shifting public opinion on climate change: Factors influencing concern in the U.S.

Homework assignment

Work on your second story.

Thursday, Sept. 29

Field Guide: Chapter 34 (Earth Sciences); Chapter 35 (Climate)

Journalist’s Resource: “Fracking, shale gas and health effects: Research roundup

Readings by and about Michelle Nijhuis, author of The Science Writers’ Essay Handbook: How to Craft Compelling True Stories in Any Medium

Journalist’s Resource: “Tips for journalists working with math, statistics: A list of key resources

Homework assignment

Work on your second story.

Week 7 (Covering the Environment)

Tuesday, Oct. 4

Field Guide: Chapter 36 (Risk Reporting)

Journalist’s Resource: “Reporting on health risk in medical studies, pharmaceutical trials: Tips from The Poynter Institute

The New York Times: “Death by Medical Error: Adding Context to Scary Headlines

Google Hangout with Michelle Nijhuis, science writer for The New York Times

Homework assignment

Finish the draft of your second story.

Thursday, Oct. 6

A draft of your second story is due.

Field Guide: Introduction to “Part Four: Covering Stories in the Life Sciences”; Chapter 23 (Medicine); and Chapter 24 (Infectious Diseases)

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Mercury, Vaccines, and Autism: One Controversy, Three Histories

Homework assignment

Research members of our Oct. 13 panel

Week 8 (Covering Health and Medicine)

Tuesday, Oct. 11

Field Guide: Chapter 25 (Nutrition); Chapter 26 (Mental Health); and Chapter 27 (The Biology of Behavior)

The Washington Post:Figments of the Imagination?” (and “Q&A With Reporter”)

A librarian from VCU’s Tompkins-McCaw Library will address medical research resources.

Homework assignments: TBD

Thursday, Oct. 13

Note: Science Journalism Panel discussion, 6-7:30 p.m. in James Branch Cabell Library, Classroom 250


  • Tim Wheeler, former president of the Society of Environmental Journalists
  • Erika Engelhaupt, online science editor for National Geographic
  • Tim Appenzeller, news editor for the journal Science
  • Tammie Smith, longtime health and medical reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Week 9 (Covering Health and Medicine)

Tuesday, Oct. 18

Field Guide: Chapter 28 (Human Genetics) and Chapter 29 (Human Cloning and Stem Cells)

Science magazine: “Framing Science

Columbia Journalism Review: “Science Needs a Storyline: The question is not if, but how scientists should frame their research

Homework assignments: TBD

Thursday, Oct. 20no class; VCU reading days

Week 10

Tuesday, Oct. 25

Midterm exam

Thursday, Oct. 27

Readings by and about John Horgan, author of The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Science in the Twilight of the Scientific Age

Homework assignment

Propose ideas for your final story.

Week 11 (Covering Technology)

Tuesday, Nov. 1

Field Guide: Chapter 30 (Technology and Engineering) and Chapter 31 (Space Science)

Google Hangout with John Horgan, who writes the Cross-Check blog for Scientific American

A VCU technology librarian will address computer science and engineering resources.

Selecting a focus for your final story

Homework assignment

Work on your final story.

Thursday, Nov. 3

Field Guide: Introduction to “Part Three: Varying Your Writing Style”; Chapter 17 (Deadline Writing); and Chapter 18 (Investigative Reporting)

Homework assignment

Work on your final story.

Friday, Nov. 4 – W-date

Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5: We will help VCU graduate students craft abstracts and press releases about their research.

Week 12 (Covering Technology)

Tuesday, Nov. 8

Field Guide: Chapter 19 (Gee Whiz Science Writing) and Chapter 20 (Explanatory Writing)

Homework assignment

Work on your final story.

Thursday, Nov. 10

Field Guide: Chapter 21 (Narrative Writing) and Chapter 22 (The Science Essay)

The Paris Review: “Interview: John McPhee, the Art of Nonfiction No. 3

New Yorker: “Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save Your Life?” (by Atul Gawande)

Discover Magazine: “Deconstructing Gawande: Why Narrative and Structure Are Important

Homework assignments: TBD

Week 13 (Covering Technology)

Tuesday, Nov. 15

Field Guide: “Taking a Different Path: Journalists and Public Information Officers”; Introduction to Part Six: Communicating Science from Institutions; Chapter 37 (Universities); Chapter 38 (Institutional Communications During Crisis); and Chapter 39 (Government Agencies)

Newsweek: “Is the Internet Making Us Crazy? What the New Research Says

Mindhacks.com: “No, the Web Is Not Driving Us Mad

Time.com: “Does the Internet Really Make Everyone Crazy?

Homework assignments: TBD

Thursday, Nov. 17

Field Guide: Chapter 40 (Nonprofits); Chapter 41 (Museums); and Chapter 42 (Corporate Public Relations)

Homework assignment

Finish your final story.

Week 14

Tuesday, Nov. 22

A draft of your final story is due.

Homework assignments: TBD

Thursday, Nov. 24no class; Thanksgiving

Week 15

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Readings by and about Will Harlan, author of Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island

Homework assignments: TBD

Thursday, Dec. 1

Google Hangout with Will Harlan, winner of the 2015 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists

Homework assignments: TBD

Week 16

Tuesday, Dec. 6

Wrapping up the course

Homework assignments: TBD

Thursday, Dec. 8

Wrapping up the course

Final exam: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 1-3:50 p.m.