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Jill U Adams writes about health & medicine, nature & environmental issues, and the intersection of research & policy for newspapers, magazines, and the web. Publication credits include Audubon, Discover, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Science, and Nature. A former research scientist, Jill has shed her passive voice but not her disapproval of handwaving theories. A parent of teens, she is loath to give advice, but is full of it anyway. Jill lives in Albany, NY, with her husband, three kids, and a dog.

40 responses to “First paid clips”

  1. David Bradley

    My first paid commission, was 350 words for New Scientist back in 1990, on a weird chemical reaction involving lithium and water. The research was done by the late Ron Snaith a brilliant Cambridge chemist who really looked the part with corduroy jacket complete with patches, ginormous lapels and blue brushed denim flares, we met in The Fountain pub to discuss the chemistry. I vaguely recall he sported vast sideburns too and errant hair too.

    Anyway, the article was knocked into shape by Nina Hall and I later heard that Ron proudly displayed it at his talks on the conference circuit.

  2. Christina Frank

    Well, I’m more of a health writer than a science writer, but my first paid clip was not about health or science. It was a first-person essay in The Village Voice called “My Life As a Model,” and it chronicled–yep–my brief turn working as a model in Spain. This was a looong time ago, but it was incredibly thrilling to be published in The Voice, which was extremely hip at the time!

  3. Alison

    My first clip was from an unpaid internship at the National Zoo’s magazine, Zoogoer. I cowrote “Saving Pollinators” with another intern, Emily Schuster (now editor at ASTC). It was published months after the internship ended, and I was completely surprised to receive a check in the mail for a few hundred dollars.

  4. Dan Vergano

    My first paid clip was from an online news item, $25, run by Prof. Ed Diamond at NYU, which was a news site about news called “Medium Cool”. Web pay rates haven’t changed much since 1996, I guess. It was a story about Russian journalism students reacting to the derailment of a passenger train that we were riding on outside Rostov. Good times.

  5. Hannah Hoag

    Although I had written for specialty publications and been paid, my first real journalistic clip was on a Massachusetts tire recycling company (http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2002/11/25/focus2.html?page=all), published in the Boston Business Journal, while I was doing my scijo degree at BU. As I recall, my profs weren’t too pleased that had freelanced a clip when I was supposed to be focusing on my other assignments…

    The newspaper focused heavily on the region’s biotech industry, and I remember fretting over the lede wondering how I was going to make used tires interesting. (“Face it: Biotech is sexy, used tires are not.”)

    Can’t remember what I was paid, except that I didn’t get the check until after I had moved to D.C. for an internship, so it probably helped me survive.

  6. Virginia Hughes

    Mine was ScienceNOW (thank you, David Grimm!):

    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2005/11/21-01.html

    1. Tom Hayden

      I remember that clip, Ginny!

      1. Virginia Hughes

        yes, I should have said, Thank you to Tom Hayden for the first six edits on that clip, and thanks to David Grimm for the next six. 🙂

        1. Elie Dolgin

          My first paid clip was also a Tom Hayden pre-edit for Science (with additional pre-edits by Ivan Semeniuk), written while at the Banff Center in the Canadian Rockies, with all interviews performed on a pay phone because I didn’t have a Canadian cell phone. I filed on a Friday afternoon, right before a weekend in Lake Louise and then a Monday spent hiking for 12 hours to visit the Burgess shale, home to 500+ million year old fossils. Afterward, I handled first edits using a dial up internet connection at the local elementary school in Field, British Columbia, where the tour company’s office was located (thank you guide whose name I can’t remember), and then quickly packed up camp the next morning to find a cafe with wifi in Golden, BC.

          http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5842/1157.2.full

  7. Joanne Mason

    Like Christina, I’m more of a health writer and my first paid clip had nothing to do with health or science. It was a “View from the Cube” essay in the Boston Sunday Globe in early 2005. This series was part of the Boston Works section and focused on life in the workplace. My employer was moving from Boston’s Back Bay to a suburban office park, so I wrote about my mixed feelings. I’d love the easier commute, but would miss the city location. I wasn’t even trying to be a freelance writer at the time; I just enjoyed the essay series and thought the topic would suit, so I pitched it on a whim.

  8. Liza Gross

    My first freelance clip turned out to be a mitzvah for Tikkun, The High Stakes of Cancer Prevention (with Sam Epstein, http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/nov2000_gross).

    I had written numerous media reviews and environmental health stories while on staff at Sierra before that and started working on this cancer piece after starting a full-time gig as science writer at the Exploratorium. It was the start of a pattern that continued until just last month–when I finally went to part-time at PLOS so I could concentrate even more energy on (paid!) freelance writing.

  9. Tom Hayden

    My first paid clip is in the book, chapter 3. It was for the now-sadly defunct Equinox magazine, circa 1996. I pitched a big feature on iron fertilization of the oceans, and the editor parried with an assignment for a front-of-the-book short on climate geoengineering ideas broadly. I can’t for the life of me remember what it paid, but I want to say $500. I do remember that vastly expanded my expendable income as a PhD student, and that it felt like winning the lottery, to be paid to do something I would gladly have done for free. The good days still feel like that, every once in a while.

  10. Alexis Madrigal

    This was my first paid clip:
    http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2007/10/pharma_iss

    Crazy story: T. Boone Pickens’ son’s dream of privatizing the ISS for pharmaceutical research. Dug it up at a random conference at NASA Ames.

  11. Rebecca Boyle

    My first paid clip as a freelancer was for PopSci.com, and it was about birth control for animals. http://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2009-03/birth-control-animals

    I was working for a newspaper at the time and was nervous about what my editors would think — after all, I was doing outside work, rather than more newspaper work, in my spare time. I was hesitant to tell anyone about it besides my family. I was paid $50 for that piece, but it led to a regular blogging gig the following year, which was good because I’d been laid off after my paper closed its doors. Now three years later, I just decided to move on from the blog to do longer reported work…but I’m still proud of that story.

  12. Ann Finkbeiner

    I’ve just spent 30 minutes I didn’t have trying to find my first clip. I don’t remember whether it was in the Baltimore Sun or the now-dead News-American, I don’t remember what I was paid except it was teensy. I do remember it was on Baltimore’s earthquakes, which at the time it didn’t have any of. The earthquake worth noting came much later.

  13. Kate Gammon

    My first paid clip came out in 2007, when I was working at the ABC News Health and Medical unit in Needham, Massachusetts. I wrote a story about a new potential obesity treatment that my editor artfully subtitled “A Jab for Flab.”

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Diet/story?id=3255572&page=1#.UYKpV5W4Btc

    I get a little anxiety when I look back at all the diet and consumer health stories I wrote before I moved west to write about technology and science.

    At the same time, I’m glad to have learned to write and research so fast.

  14. Brendan Borrell

    My first paid clip came while I was finishing up a stint at The Oregonian in 2006. I pitched ScienceNow a story about the ecology of tooth decay and ended up with a 100-word byline-free ScienceShot. I was $75 richer and a very happy man.

  15. Jeanne Erdmann

    My first paid clip was a profile of a forensic dentist, which I wrote for the St. Louis County Journals. I think I got $35 dollars.

  16. George Johnson

    A profile of an eco-guerrilla that began with a scene in which he cut down a land developer’s billboard along a two-lane blacktop in New Mexico. (To some extent this was participatory journalism.) It was for Harper’s Weekly, which flashed back in and out of existence, and paid, if I recall, $400.

  17. Siri Carpenter

    My first paid clip was in about 1988, when I was about 16, and was a “Cook of the Week” column for the Houston County News in LaCrescent, MN. My dreams of heartwrenching narrative were dashed when my columns (yes, I did this over and over again) were turned into a grainy photo of whatever local church lady (taken by me on my Pentax S — I embraced multimedia), about a sentence on her food preferences, and a recipe for hotdish or 7-layer-salad. I don’t remember WHAT I was paid, but I do remember THAT I was paid.

  18. Alexandra Witze

    While in college I interviewed Ursula Marvin at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and wrote a piece about the 500th anniversary of the Ensisheim meteorite, which fell in Alsace in 1492. Kelly Beatty edited it for the November 1992 issue of Sky & Telescope, where I was an intern at the time. I don’t remember how much they paid, but it was more than I was making working at the front desk of my dorm.

    1. Ann Finkbeiner

      Oh hey, Alex, my first big feature was for Sky & Tel and Kelly edited it. Poor Kelly. Lucky us.

  19. Maggie Koerth-Baker

    My first paid clip would have been something totally un-sexy that I wrote during my second college internship … at Consulting-Specifying Engineer Magazine. I think it might have been about changes in engineering licensure exams, but I honestly don’t remember. I do remember that I was paid $10 an hour at that internship, though. Which was fantastic.

  20. Helen Fields

    It was 2002, a piece for the newscast at NPR, and I believe it paid $75. I have no idea what it was on. Well, it was on science. I can tell you that.

  21. Christie Aschwanden

    My first was a story for New Scientist about a water pump for cows that I’d read about in High Country News. I got paid $1/word. It would be the one and only thing I published under my maiden name, except that NS spelled my byline wrong.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15721162.300-smart-cattle-nose-ahead.html

  22. Kristin Ohlson

    I’m not entirely sure which was my first paid clip — either a small piece for a suburban newspaper about the school board doings or a longer piece for Northern Ohio Live (the editor asked me to send her a note about my interests and she got a five page letter!).

    I think my first science piece was in Discover, about NASA scientists who used atomic oxygen to clean a Warhol painting. I wince now at the writing (editing!):
    http://discovermagazine.com/2001/jan/featrocketsci#.UYH8u6J-xc0

  23. Emily Sohn

    I wrote a feature about the scientific search for the perfect French fry during the feature-writing portion of my year in the Science Writing program at UCSC in 2000. The researchers I wrote about were at UC Davis, and I sold the finished story to the UCD alumni magazine. I think they paid me $1,000 or $800. It didn’t really matter – I was elated!

  24. Paul Voosen

    My first semi-professional clip was for Whats Up Magazine, a sadly defunct Boston street rag, profiling the Dresden Dolls in 2003. Talked with them at the Paradise after a sound check, and spent the interview apologizing for my dumb questions. They were patient; I was young. That one only paid in pizza.

    Never been a legit freelancer, but my first clip touching on science must have been a short one about the eastern coyote while I was at BC’s alumni mag. There was a 4:00-am-or-whatever phone call to join the researchers after they found what looked to be their first trapped coyote in months. As we stumbled in the dark down a soggy slippery Newton hillside to the cage, I remember thinking, “This is the life.”

    http://bcm.bc.edu/issues/fall_2005/lindenlane.html

  25. Adrienne (scieditor)

    My first paid clip was likely for Wavelength Magazine (a sea-kayak rag I still adore) or for Abilities Magazine, about a kayaking adaptations for a variety of disabilities, which I remember paid $150 for the cover feature.
    But my first paid science gig was ghost-writing a set of handouts for a grade 9 science course for a major Canadian educational publisher. I think it paid me $7000 because I had an “editor” title and the endless detailed tasks that come with that.
    And THAT is why I am a science *editor* today (and still primarily ghost-writing school textbooks–shh). I mostly got the gig because I was comfortable enough with science to say yes when it was offered.

    Thanks for sharing your stories. I am *loving* them.

  26. Cynthia Ramnarace

    For The Watertown Tab (yes, that Watertown) I wrote a review of the high school musical and was paid $25. The most memorable part of the experience was, after interviewing the cast members, I heard one of them talk about me as I walked away. “That’s the lady from the newspaper.” I was 19 or 20 and it filled me with glee — “from the newspaper!” and shock — “lady?” Did I look that old?

  27. Cameron Walker

    My first story was an account of a summer doing research at Toolik Lake for Passionfruit, a women’s travel magazine. I think it might have paid $60, but what I remember most is that it was my first attempt at sounding “professional” on email, which I totally flubbed. They didn’t use it in the issue they’d initially said they would, and I sent off some fiery letter with lots of big words about how I was disappointed to not see it and I’d take it elsewhere if there wasn’t better communication–I imagine it sounded totally ridiculous. Anyway, since then I’ve tried to work on being professional by sending the kind of emails I’d want to get. I’m still working on it…

  28. Hope

    My first paid clip was for covering a lecture on a topic I’ve long forgotten on the history of science for the Radcliffe Second Century. The tape recorder the paper’s office loaned me broke; fortunately, I also took notes. While I have forgotten the topic, I remember the $25 payment I earned. Thus began – and ended – my science writing career.

    I didn’t earn money for a clip again until last year, over 25 years later.

  29. Allie Wilkinson
  30. Kate Prengaman

    This is a great post – so cool to see the diverse places that people got started! My first paid clip was not so long ago, but it’s a great story about the science of taste and beer. Written for a class, then pitched on a (successful) whim. I wish it was always that easy 🙂 http://draftmag.com/features/the-science-of-taste/

  31. Christopher Crockett

    My first was just last year. I published a piece on EarthSky about citizen scientists cataloging star-forming bubbles in our galaxy (http://earthsky.org/space/citizen-scientists-uncover-a-galaxy-of-bubbles). It paid a whopping $25, but that was 25 more dollars than I’d ever received for writing about science. That experience convinced me that it may actually be possible to get paid to write about science – who knew? It also led to a regular gig at EarthSky which in turn lead to a recommendation letter that helped get me accepted to the AAAS MMF. This whole crazy new adventure I’m on started with one very simple 700-ish word blog post…

  32. How to become an editor » Editing by Catch the Sun

    […] was reading a blog post of collected “first clip” stories from successful science writers and was really excited by the variety and humble/fearless nature of their origin stories. The […]

  33. Marissa Fessenden

    My first journalistic clip was a class assignment at UC Santa Cruz that I pitched to ScienceNOW. It had the benefit of multiple editors, starting with Rob Irion. The story was on vocal fry (http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/12/vocal-fry-creeping-into-us-speec.html), so I recorded a short audio bit of me using it (kinda) in my hostel room in San Francisco during AGU’s fall meeting. I responded to edits while sitting in the hostel lobby. Then it was online and with my name! This story got more hits than anything I’ve written since.

  34. Jessica Marshall

    My first paid clip was a ScienceNOW I wrote for my third internship at UCSC in Spring 2005. “The Benefits of Sex” http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2005/03/30-01.html?ref=hp
    If I recall correctly it ended up being one of the top hits for the month. Can’t imagine why. I’m sure you’ve clicked on it by now to find out what the benefits are. Sorry it’s not more titillating.

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