How to freshen up science stories

If you are like me, then every year on the 1st of December you are wondering how you will cover HIV/AIDS this year on World AIDS Day. And if you are like me, then you will know that this task gets harder and harder every year.

And that is the biggest question that faces science journalists who are interested in HIV/AIDS. How do you write a story about a topic that has been extensively covered for over 25 years – and make it interesting?

I remember an editor I used to work with who refused a story I wrote about HIV saying that “people are sick of hearing about AIDS, find something interesting.”

While that dilemma may be biggest for people covering HIV, there are other topics that have the same problem. Think of Avian Flu. It was a huge subject for a while and had major coverage. Now, it is still as dangerous and big as ever, but nobody covers it anymore because people are “sick of hearing” about it.

So how can you make your story interesting?

I believe that the best and most tried and true way is to give your story a human angle. The science has been covered, the statistics have been highlighted, and the new researches promoted. What people really need to understand HIV is to give it a face.

You can talk about the number of deaths, which is equivalent to 15 Jumbo planes crashing everyday. And while this is a shocking statistic, showing the photo of a little child born with HIV can have a stronger impact on people. That is because as humans, we tend to relate to other humans more than to numbers.

I am not saying that we should stop writing about the science. On the contrary, this is of the utmost importance. We have this impression that everyone understands how HIV works. That is because when HIV was first discovered, everyone wrote about the science behind it. But younger generations have not been subjected to this.

And it is also important to explain the science because, once something is understood, it becomes less scary and foreboding. This is the first step in fighting the stigma faced by people living with HIV/AIDS.

Covering research is important because it gives hope. It shows the community that there is a lot going on in the science fields. And it bridges between scientists and the people on the street.

Statistics are important to remind people that the virus is still at large.

So how can you write a captivating story, yet fulfill these goals?

Find a human angle. Follow the day of someone living with HIV/AIDS, or find an energetic inspirational person who is dealing with the virus. Write a story centered around this person. But infuse the story with the other aspects as well.

For example, say you are writing about a woman in Africa who is struggling with HIV while bringing up her two children. Here, you can go into the science of how the virus works and how it is transferred from mother to child. If that woman is quoted talking about how she lost her husband to HIV, mention a statistic about AIDS orphans.

While talking about an inspirational person who is doing a lot for people living with HIV/AIDS, drift briefly into a new research that can do a lot for that same group.

Hopefully this way, you can keep writing interesting stories about HIV/AIDS that people are interested to read. And this way, we, as journalists, can keep doing our part in the fight against HIV/AIDS.