The New Daily science editor, John Elder

John Elder. Photo Pieter Clarke.
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"Being part of something new is incredible and I really think that we could become a major player.” John Elder science editor at The New Daily, speaks to Pieter Clarke.

How did you get into Journalism?
When I was at school in Sydney’s western suburbs in the early 70’s the career counsellor told me that there was no way I would get into journalism. I was identified as a good writer however the counsellor felt that journalism was for people who had been to private schools and that it wasn’t something for me. I finished school and didn’t get great marks and started writing a lot of poetry and before long I had collected a whole bound book of my writing. During this time, I floated through a few jobs and eventually I had applied for a job as a mail boy for an electronics store and handed the interviewer my poetry. He then took it to the advertising department, and they gave me a job as a copywriter. This job helped me start off in journalism as the same company got me to help them publish a magazine.

Over your career what has been your favorite role?
I really enjoyed the time I was working for the Sunday Age, I was there for years and towards the end it was amazing. I was working with a great editor Duska Sulicich and it allowed me to write about science, health, crime and all sorts of topics that I really enjoyed. During my career however I have had jobs working in places like New York and have been able to cover amazing stories in places like Guatemala and Eastern Europe. So, when I think about it, I do find it hard to narrow down just one job that I’ve had in my career that I was most passionate for.

What challenges does a publication like The New Daily face?
Because this outlet is founded by superannuation organisations we do have to strive to make sure that it is known that we do produce independent news. We had a meeting recently in which the reps for the superfunds came in and they were proclaiming how important it is for our writers to keep themselves independent.

What unique issues does being the science editor for a publication like this present?
The challenge for me as a science editor is continually developing where this publication is headed for science. What this involves is that for me the next year will be about getting more into the science investigation pieces that I want to write. There are real issues I want to delve deeply into like stem cells as I don’t think these issues are being explained properly to our audiences. I have to work hard to make sure that as much hard science gets out there given that we live in this time of climate denial and other social issues.

What sort of precautions do you take when gathering your sources?
I’m always vetting the journals that we use, I make sure that they are good journals and the work that they’re producing is built upon previous work. You’ve got to be careful about which stories you take especially from things like press releases because you can find that they have been overhyped. Despite these precautions you can find science stories that are great and haven’t been touched by other news organisations. I was covering a story recently about a pair of doctors who were developing a new and more accurate way to perform MRIs and help people with back pain. It was an example of a great paper that was quantifiable in its measurements and at the time I was writing my article I didn’t see any other publications covering this story. So you have to be cautious but the stories are there.

What is the best part of your job?
I really like working with the new wave of journalists coming into the industry. In other newsrooms I have worked in the past I’ve had to work with my head down the whole time and it’s not been very social. In one job it got to the point where I joined up with another journalist to do a collection of articles on cold cases so I could have someone to have a sandwich with. Working here allows me to have personal connections with the people I work with and I really enjoy that. The job here also excites me because I can see how much potential there is here for growth. We have some amazing people writing for us now and within a year I think that will only grow and get better and better. The New Daily is constantly being mentioned in a good light and I look forward to being here as it moves forward.