A thresher shark’s tail attack is like a “ballet move.” A cheetah changes direction like a wide receiver. Myxococcus xanthus bacteria have a “kind of stealth communication system” that may help them plan their signature wavelike attacks.
Those are some of the ways New York Times science writer James Gorman discusses scientific research in the Times’ weekly “Science Take” videos, which debut today. The clips are 60-90-second-long discussions of an idea that’s popped out of research Gorman and the science section’s Jeffery DelViscio have read.
The journalists look for research with “one point that can be summarized,” Gorman said by phone. A lot of scientific research now has video attached, making it easier for the Times to illustrate sometimes-lofty concepts.
That’s not actually too far from a way to approach blogging, I ventured to science editor Barbara Strauch in a separate call. “Yes and no,” she said. “Because blogging is sometimes blither and this is the opposite, we hope, of blither.”
A lot of legwork goes into avoiding blither. After reading research, DelViscio will usually call scientists, then write something up for Gorman, who will often call the scientists himself. Then they put together an outline script that Gorman will play with when filming — emphasizing different words, changing constructions that would work perfectly well in written journalism. It sounds funny to say “Darwin long thought about sexual selection” out loud, for instance, Gorman said.
The video pieces will stand on their own or occasionally illustrate other stories, an approach the Times has taken while writing about how dragonflies are vicious killers, for instance. They’ll sit in an archive, Strauch said, and “we expect them to get play on the homepage.”
A video “can live on places like YouTube, it can live outside the article page,” Nancy Donaldson, the Times’ senior producer for video, said in a phone call. The videos will have pre-roll advertising, Michael Rubens, the company’s director of video production said, and the company “is working on other distribution ideas” for the clips, including partnerships.
They will not, as a rule, be pegged to current news (though that bacteria video has obvious appeal to anyone looking to evade the NSA while communicating).
Newness will, however, drive how the Times selects research, Strauch said; the Times will look for new findings, not videos showing “cats in a toilet.”
Related: How digital platforms are changing the way science reporters find, tell stories | The 10 biggest science reporting mistakes (and how to avoid them) | What journalists can learn from scientists and the scientific method | Angier: Newspaper science reporting is ‘basically going out of existence’