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3 Posts authored by: Michael Woods

Get a comment. Use a quotation from an expert who discusses the significance of the discovery or the event. From my first days writing broadcast news for a small radio station in upstate New York through a long career as a newspaper science editor in the National Press Building here in Washington, DC, it’s been an axiom. “Get a quote.” A quotation from an expert adds substance and credibility to a story. It advances the story. And if the expert speaks simply and colorfully, he or she brings life to the story and invites the audience to continue reading. A successful quote also helps the reader remember the article.


That need for direct quotations and expert comment is the driving force behind the ACS Office of Public Affairs’ efforts every October to provide journalists with comments on the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announces the prize in Stockholm at 5:45 a.m. Eastern U.S. time. Some journalists, like Karl Ritter and Louise Nordstrom of the Associated Press, must file their stories immediately and need comment on the significance of the research behind the prize as soon as possible. Others have more leisurely deadlines ― maybe a couple of hours.


Touching bases with an expert on such short notice can be difficult. But it is one of the elements of deadline reporting that can be handled in advance. To meet that need for the Nobel science awards, the ACS Office of Public Affairs offers journalists a comment from the Society’s president. ACS is, after all, the world’s largest scientific society, and a comment from its president can enhance a story in all the ways that direct quotations do. We also offer to schedule live telephone interviews with the ACS president, who this year is Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To carry through, our team settles into the office by 5 a.m., monitors the announcement online from Stockholm and puts the comment into a press release that goes to thousands of journalists. The press release also appears online.


We are proud to have helped so many journalists in this way with their coverage of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Our press release was in the email boxes of almost 4,000 journalists around the world within 30 minutes of the announcement and online as well. Shakhashiri did more than a dozen phone interviews with reporters, such as David Brown of The Washington Post; Dan Vergano of USA Today; Eva von Schaper of Bloomberg News; Ken Chang of The New York Times; Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters; Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal; Nell Greenfield Boyce, National Public Radio (NPR);  and  Rachel Ehrenberg, Science News.


The ACS Public Affairs office can help with comments and quotations on other stories, as well. Please let us know when we can help.



That milestone is fast approaching, and I look forward to August 19 with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Although some of my colleagues here in the American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Public Affairs may find it easy to believe that I’m talking about an 80th birthday, that landmark actually is some years ahead. August 19, 2012 will mark the 80th ACS National Meeting & Exposition that I have attended.


ACS holds two of these science spectaculars each year― meetings that some news media have termed “The World Series of Science.” And I’ve been attending them since 1972. It began in my earlier life as a newspaper science editor covering ACS National Meetings as a journalist. ACS National Meetings include reports on new discoveries that span science’s horizons, often ranging astronomy to zoology. My role changed in 2006, when daily journalism began falling into the tenacious embrace of an economic downturn. It forced my former employer to shutter its Washington Bureau in the National Press Building, where I worked.


I transitioned to the ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, and began a new role in helping journalists cover these huge meetings, which sometimes include more than 12,000 technical papers with scores of sessions underway simultaneously. Our team here in ACS Public Affairs reads all of the abstracts of technical presentations scheduled for each of the annual meetings ― more than 20,000 in all. We’re hunting for newsworthy presentations that can be the basis for press releases, press conferences and other content.


And we’re in the home stretch for the ACS 244th National Meeting & Exposition, which begins on that milestone day, August 19, and continues through August 23. The venue: Philadelphia. On the agenda: 8,600 presentations on new discoveries in science and other topics.The attendance: An estimated 14,000 scientists and others who will pump about $25 million into the local economy, according to Philadelphia convention officials. The ACS Public Affairs team has produced more than 40 press releases that publicize hundreds of papers, and there will be almost 30 press conferences. Journalists who cover the meeting from their home bases can tune in live online and ask questions.


The Philadelphia meeting includes some of the most newsworthy topics I can recall in those 79 previous meetings. One example: A block-buster symposium featuring high-profile scientists and attorneys involved in righting mistakes in the criminal justice system. They used chemistry to help people who are innocent but proven guilty in court. Press registration is still open if you can join us in the ACS Press Center in Philly. Embargoed copies of press releases will be on EurekAlert! and Newswise in August. Let us know if we can help in any way with your coverage, either from the City of Brotherly Love or your own office.

If there’s a prize for reading a lot of scientific journal articles, our team in the Science Communications unit in the American Chemical Society Office of Public Affairs might be among the front runners. I thought I did a lot of reading during an earlier career in the National Press Building as science editor in the Washington Bureau of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade. Everything from Science, Nature, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society to the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and The Lancet.


But the transition to the ACS in 2006 ― after the economic crunch in print journalism closed the bureau ― gave new meaning to the science writer’s bread-and-butter task of mining journals for news. Our team here at the world’s largest scientific society read more than 35,000 journal articles last year and will breeze through almost 36,000 in 2012. That’s almost 150 articles today and each day of the work week. ACS publishes those 35,000+ articles in its suite of more than 40 peer-reviewed scientific journals and a weekly newsmagazine, Chemical & Engineering News. Those journals are a literal gold mine of spot news, features, and background.


We know that journalists are busier than ever before, often writing not just for the print edition, but online as well. Chances are, you don’t have the time. So we do the reading for you, engaging in what must be one of the science writing community’s biggest and most intensive treasure hunts. That’s our task, exactly. Have you ever heard of any bigger search for science news? We’re looking for gems of science news that can be cut, faceted, polished, and packaged in the ACS News Service Weekly Press Pac, and distributed to journalists. The PressPac goes to more than 2,000 journalists worldwide. It’s a collection of brief news media alerts about the latest content in ACS journals, which ThompsonReuters ranks as among the most highly cited in chemistry. The alerts, which are not press releases, give journalists a heads-up summary of the new research, with a link to the full text article and contact information for the corresponding author.


Launched in 2006, the PressPac has been an overwhelming success, the main reason why ACS journals get media coverage in print and online sites with a combined circulation/monthly unique visit count of more than 3 billion. If you’re not on our distribution list of 2,000+ journalists worldwide, drop an email to>. And let us know if you find the PressPac and what we might do to improve it.