Reporting from a Distance

Recently I picked up a side gig doing reporting for SpaceflightInsider.com, a news site specializing in all things space–NASA, Department of Defense, commercial space, what have you. This is one of several ways I keep my toes in the space business and, as an extra bonus, keep up on what’s happening in the industry.

Watching missions “live”

Space activities happen in a lot of different places, from Cape Canaveral to the hall of Congress to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to a few thousand miles from the planets Jupiter or Mars. It’s not like Spaceflight Insider has a huge travel budget (trust me, they’d like to, but they don’t…yet). Nor am I able put on a spacesuit, hop in a rocket and fly out there to interview someone (if only!). Instead, a lot of my reporting now is not handled by researching and observing events through the internet.

For example, while I covered an Atlas V launch that flew out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station 65 miles away from where I live, I didn’t actually drive out to the Space Coast to watch the launch. Instead, I did my preliminary research about the launch and its payload on the internet and then, when launch day came, I watched the proceedings live online (another service Spaceflight Insider provides). Mind you, I could have gone to the launch that day, but I had other commitments. I will be attending the OSIRIS-REx launch in September, and I will probably attend others as the whim suits me. However, my attendance is not always necessary.

Last night, for example, I was live-tweeting the insertion of NASA’s Juno spacecraft into Jupiter orbit while watching Spaceflight Insider’s live video feed. I was one of at least three aerospace writers doing the same thing–our audiences just differ. Anyhow, we were all commenting on the launch in our own ways. Jeff Foust, a friend at Space News and one of the best space reporters in the business, caught something I didn’t and took the time to amend one of my comments after I stated that Juno was going into a 53-day orbit:

53-day orbit is only the initial capture orbit. Moves to 14-day science orbit after maneuver in October.

The magic of live coverage.

Person-on-the-street “interviewing”

One thing that most news reports require is a quotation from one or more mission participants. Some of these can be extracted from existing media releases. Depending on my angle on the story, I can also email people in the industry–one of those times when my years in aerospace come in handy–and ask them to provide me their perspective without having to stick a microphone or recorder under their face.

Capturing imagery

Thanks to some marvelous tremors in my hands, I am not the world’s best photographer. I could capture decent images with my iPhone or the “good camera,” which doesn’t get much activity, but it’s often easier to, again, acquire the images from the internet and attribute them appropriately. Jason Rhian, the founder of Spaceflight Insider, also has a team of outstanding photographers who can get into places I can’t and who can take really gorgeous, high-quality pictures on site.

Bringing things to life–from a distance

The point is that it is possible to do reporting from a distance. Our technologies have allowed that to happen. Would I prefer to see these events live? Most of the time, yes; but like I said, my employer doesn’t have an unlimited travel budget, and the internet has made accurate long-distance reporting feasible. Whether I’m writing on-site or from half a continent (or solar system) away, it is still quite possible to bring a story to life without being there. That’s where the magic of writing comes in, and that’s why I do what I do.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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2 Responses to Reporting from a Distance

  1. Jason Rhian says:

    Proud to have you as a member of the SpaceFlight Insider team!

  2. Lisa Kaspin-Powell says:

    Congratulations on getting this exciting gig!

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