STAT creates named scholarship for journalist Sharon Begley

STAT on Tuesday opened applications for a new Early Career Science Journalism Fellowship named in memory of famous journalist Sharon Begley, who was loved by the legions of young journalists that she mentored during her four decades of career. The nine-month annual scholarship, offered in conjunction with MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program, aims to help enhance the diversity of science journalism.

Those selected for the Sharon Begley-STAT Scientific Research Fellowship will work as reporters at STAT headquarters in Boston and receive additional training through the KSJ program. The scholarship is designed for individuals who are in the first five years of their career and who come from racial and ethnic communities that are under-represented in the field.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – whose scientific arm is dedicated to curing, preventing or managing all diseases by the turn of the century – has provided $ 225,000 for the first two years of the program, and STAT is search for additional funding to support the program.


Begley died in January at age 64 of complications from lung cancer after a career reporting for Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and – for five years – STAT.

“Our hope for this scholarship is that it helps bring people into science journalism whose voices have not been heard in large numbers in our profession,” said Gideon Gil, editor-in-chief of STAT, who edited Begley. “Sharon has really worked to make it a more inclusive profession, in her own way as one of the first women in science journalism – she was a role model for that – and as a mentor, and I think that for her. pays homage. job.”


One Begley Fellow will be selected in the first year of the program and will start in September, while two will be chosen for the second. Fellows’ salaries will be $ 75,000 and MIT will provide health benefits. Applications for the first year will be accepted until June 30.

When Begley joined STAT upon launch, his fame immediately gave the fledgling publication some credibility, and his coverage of genetics, cancer, and neuroscience helped build his reputation for rigorous, insightful, and biomedical stories. entertaining.

While Begley’s work was widely respected in the science world, in newsrooms, she was equally cherished for her collegiality, wisdom, and quick, albeit calm mind. When colleagues asked her questions – a fairly common occurrence – she would give up what she was doing and give them her undivided attention, whether they were an editor or an intern.

Some of his most significant work at STAT shed light on the disparities in biomedical research and the real impact of these inequalities. She highlighted how a lack of funding for sickle cell anemia, a disease that disproportionately affects black people, had lowered very realistic hopes for a cure, and how the neglected health system the needs of people with the disease.

In a story of the reference genome’s dependence on people of European descent, she wrote that it “fails in a way that has become embarrassing, misleading and, in the worst case, emblematic of the white European domination of science – loopholes that threaten the dream of genetic-based personalized medicine. “

The heads of the KSJ program and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative both said they wanted to get involved with the new scholarship because they supported its mission to improve the diversity of the next generation of science journalists. But they also saw it as a way to pay tribute to Begley.

“We’re grateful to be able to help her legacy live on in some of these areas where she was most passionate,” said Leah Duran, the initiative’s science communications manager.

Begley’s husband Ned Groth said her role as a mentor was both a natural extension of who she was – “a generous person who would help anyone who asked for it” – and a reflection of a desire to make things better. for other journalists. .

Begley joined Newsweek in 1977, the same decade the revered publication was sued by women in a landmark case of gender discrimination.

Begley, then and throughout her career, largely let her work speak for itself, but her talent shone so brightly and quickly that she quickly became a star, despite the macho environment of the place. Yet she knew what it was like for people who felt like strangers in the newsroom.

“She wanted to show others how to do it,” Groth said.

The field of science journalism – including STAT – grapples with its own lack of diversity, mirroring the math that occurs widely in journalism, the sciences and beyond, touching all types of industries and institutions. .

The need to diversify news teams is not only seen as something that should be done in terms of opportunity and fairness – but also because it will result in better journalism. Journalists of color have perspectives that many white journalists do not have in terms of disparities in health and historical legacy and continuing examples of medical and research institutions abusing people of color. Such a lived experience can inform their reporting, develop story ideas, and help build trust with readers of all racial and ethnic groups. As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, race and ethnicity are inextricably linked with questions of science and medicine.

“People from different communities and representing different walks of life recognize the undercover stories, recognize areas to explore, and look for ways to tell these stories in a relevant and engaging way,” said Deborah Blum, director of the KSJ program at MIT a reporter senior scientist.

Editors in specialist or technical fields like science reporting have often blamed the lack of qualified color candidates for the lack of diversity in their writing. But that prospect ignored what newsrooms themselves can do to attract, develop and retain journalists of color.

Martin Reynolds, co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and former editor of the Oakland Tribune, called on newsrooms to form their own farm teams.

“Instead of relying on an external pipeline, you create your internal pipeline,” he said.

Several news agencies have launched scholarships for early-career journalists of color to create additional opportunities and help them get their feet in the door. But that also comes with criticism that if newsrooms were serious about diversifying their staff, they would simply hire more people of color full time, not just for relays.

Reynolds said news agencies should do all of the above: scholarships are great, but they need to be accompanied by full-time recruitment as well as efforts to create institutional cultures that will enable journalists of color to emerge. feel comfortable and supported – seeing their writing as a place where they can build their careers. After all, some journalists of color who are hired face new barriers after joining a team and leaving.

“There is a real opportunity to create a culture where people of different backgrounds and ages can come together to support the next generation and help people do better and grow,” said Reynolds.

Gil said the Begley scholarship will leave participants ready to move forward on the pitch.

“We hope and hope that those who participate in this program will ultimately be prepared for careers as science journalists, whether at STAT or in other organizations,” he said. “We don’t create a program where, at the end, we say goodbye.”

About Geraldine Higgins

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