A New Twist for MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program

Thanks to digital science magazine Undark, 2016-17 fellows will have a real-time outlet for their efforts.

The 2016-17 Knight Science Journalism Fellows announced this week are another impressive group. They include InvestigateWest executive editor Robert McClure, Le Monde journalist Chloe Hecketsweiler, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reporter Rosalia Omungo and Brooklyn-based freelancer and author Maura R. O’Connor. When the 34th class of KSJ journalism fellows convenes this fall, there will be an additional layer to go along with the auditing of courses at MIT, Harvard and other Boston institutions.

From the announcement:

For the first time, fellows will also develop original projects during their time in Cambridge – from feature stories and short films to podcasts and photo essays – which will be showcased at undark.org.

Tom Zeller, editor of the digital science magazine Undark, was on the KSJ selection committee for this year’s fellowships along with program director Deborah Blum, former acting director Wade Roush and Wall Street Journal senior science writer Robert Lee Hotz. Among the topics currently being explored by Zeller’s new publication are the lack of “nude” bra choices for black women and Media Cloud, a tool that shows how information shared on Twitter at the height of the Ebola scare often had little to do with scientific fact.

Earlier this year, in an article explaining the genesis of the new digital science magazine, Blum connected a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and the plight of factory workers in the 1920s tasked with applying glow-in-the-dark paint to items like wristwatches:

“The Power of Radium at Your Disposal” enthused one 1920s newspaper ad, one of a series encouraging Americans to enjoy radioactive materials in their home life. Companies like the New Jersey-based U.S. Radium Corporation hurried to hire workers — mostly young immigrant women — to meet demand, paying them to paint the tiny, lacy numbers on watches and clocks. The women were taught to use their lips to return their paintbrush bristles to a fine tip after each stroke. No one worried about the risks — this was the stuff of cosmetics and health drinks, after all. And the dial painters — or as they would later be called in newspaper stories, the Radium Girls — decorated themselves with the paint, giving themselves glow-in-the-dark smiles and hair that twinkled in the dusk as they walked home from work.

Then they started to fall sick. Their leg bones broke under them as they walked. Their jaws shattered. They developed wasting anemias and other exhausting illnesses. And then they began to die.

The U.S. Radium Corporation called its product “Undark.” When Blum and Zeller sat down to decide what to name the magazine, they agreed it was a powerful label for a publication devoted to ‘illuminating the intersection of science and society.’