Media intern Jon Brock shares his biggest takeaways from jumping into the exciting world of science and technology publishing.

Identify the hook in a story and make that the focus. This was the most important lesson I learned in my four weeks as a media intern at Refraction Media. I’ve always been good at writing clearly. But in my 20 years as a scientist, nobody taught me how to write engagingly – it was all about putting things in a logical order. Writing news is a different art altogether.

This all came together in an article I wrote for the Careers with STEM website on ?mua Ao – a program taking Maori kids to Silicon Valley. I interviewed Daryn, the program leader, and Tremaine, one of the kids who went on the trip. I was seriously proud of my first draft which (I thought) deftly wove their two perspectives on the different phases of the program. But Heather returned my draft covered in big red arrows. She made me rewrite it with Tremaine’s “journey” as the head of the story and Daryn’s explanation of the program in the tail. It didn’t take long to move things around – and all of a sudden it read like news.

Heather’s other criticism was that I was mixing up news and opinion. In attempting to paraphrase my interviewees, I’d made it look like their opinions were my own. As a scientist, my reputation depended on being able to back up everything I said with evidence. I realised that it’s exactly the same for a journalist. A news article doesn’t come with a list of references at the end but you still need to show where each piece of information has come from.

I took these revelations into the next piece I wrote – on the effect that smartphones are having (or not) on young people’s mental health. When I pitched the story, Heather suggested I interview a young person as well as writing about the relevant research. So I found someone on the ferry to interview and made her the focus of the story. This time around there were no red arrows and only a few small suggestions!

The other big difference coming from academia was the change of pace. I’ve been used to deadlines that stretch weeks, months, and years over the horizon. So it took a while to get up to speed as a media intern. But it felt good at the end of each day to look back and count the things I’d achieved.

Refraction’s mission is to inspire people with science and technology and the highlights for me were the occasions where I witnessed that happening. I had a wonderful Friday afternoon hanging out at a school robot club and making videos with the kids. And my last (and probably favourite) assignment was to read and shortlist the 81 brilliant science essays submitted by high school kids to the Bragg Student prize. With so much imagination and creativity on display, it was impossible not to feel inspired myself.

As well as writing and editing for the website, I also learnt from Elise about search engine optimization and digital marketing. John introduced me to print publishing. And Karen and Kymie helped me understand the business and sponsorship side of things.

At Refraction, media interns are seen as a great source of fresh ideas. And these ideas are taken seriously. In one meeting, I wondered aloud whether it made sense to allow other websites to republish Refraction’s content so more people could see it. Two weeks (and a little bit of research) later and the Careers with STEM website proudly boasted a Creative Commons license allowing exactly that.

My time as a media intern was a great experience. I’d certainly encourage anyone wondering about a career in science media to give it a go. I’m not sure where exactly my next step will take me but my four weeks at Refraction have definitely given me plenty of ideas and shown me things I didn’t know I could do.

– Jon Brock


To find out more about becoming a media intern at Refraction Media, click here.