Whom to write for, how to pitch, where to find stories, and opportunities to grab

Though the climb is steepest at the start, freelance science journalists in Southeast Asia can scale great heights. Mount Semeru, Indonesia, by Dwinanda Nurhanif Mujito on Unsplash
A complete narration of this article. Recorded by author.

I have been a freelance science journalist for six years. With a bit of luck and lots of grit and learning from mistakes, I have published in more than twenty outlets. My stories have won prizes from Singapore to Switzerland.

If you are considering a career in freelance science journalism, you might be encouraged to know that I had started without any experience in journalism or mass media.

In 2014, when I decided to leave the university and nosedived into popular science writing, I had been a researcher for seven years…


For depth, accuracy, and emotional impact, there’s no substitute for intimate, open-minded, patient field reporting.

The real story is out there, and inside the people. Dirty shoes from trekking with wildlife researchers. Source: YHLaw.

For my stories now, I’m digging for numbers and calling sources for maps and contacts. All done at my desk, eyes on a screen. Maybe I won’t need to get out.

But, of course not.

Robert Caro, the renowned biographer and journalist, was writing about the changes that electricity brought to a town. He spoke with the local elderly women. One lady chaffed him for being a city boy-”you don’t even know how heavy a water bucket is, do you?”

And she — old and bent over — took him to an abandoned well and gave him a bucket. Caro…


You want to soar as a freelance science journalist in Southeast Asia? It’s tough but fun! My advice is to start small and aim big. Listen and take your pick of the tips dished out by Dyna Rochmyaningsih and Sandy Ong in Episode 3 of Monsoon.

Episode cover photo by Denny Aulia on Unsplash; arranged by author on Canva.

After we described in Monsoon Episode 1 what we do as freelance science journalists, Dyna, Sandy, and I talk about taking the start of our careers in this episode. We share tips and strategies for others who wish to report on science in Southeast Asia.

Listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Stitcher.

Because there is no accreditation for science journalists, there is no set path to become one. You can have degrees in science, journalism, or writing. Or none of that. …


Three journalists chat about the joys and pain of their careers

Monsoon is a podcast that explores Southeast Asia through science and science journalism. Listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

Episode 1 | 26 Feb 2021

Guests

  1. Dyna Rochmyaningsih, freelance science journalist, Executive Director of Society of Indonesian Science Journalists
  2. Sandy Ong, freelance science journalist, Singapore
Art by author.

Science journalists are rare in Southeast Asia, and the freelance ones are likely critically endangered. The only other full-time freelance science journalists I know in Malaysia is moving overseas soon.

I fear I’m the only one left in the country — if you know of any other, please tell…


The region has eleven species of wild pigs, the most worldwide. But they face a grave threat in the lethal African swine fever.

Monsoon is a podcast that explores Southeast Asia through science and science journalism. Listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

Episode 2 | 26 Feb 2021

Guests:

  1. Matthew Linkie — deputy director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Indonesia; Asia Coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Wild Pig Specialist Group
  2. Sheherazade — conservation scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society, Indonesia.

Show was recorded 16 February 2021.

If you want to remember only two things from this episode, I’d give you these: Southeast Asia has eleven species of wild pigs, more than anywhere else in…


A self-reflection on turning around a disappointing end to the year.

I wrote this to remind my future self, in case I ever get carried away again. If you like this, it’s a bonus for me.

Reach high, but stay rooted. (Photo by Peter Cordes on Unsplash)

By April 2020, the year was looking pretty bad for my freelance science journalism career in Malaysia. The pandemic cancelled or shrunk most of my field reporting plans. I have been gearing up to apply for three or four journalism fellowships, but only one accepted applications.

Writing this on 1 Jan 2021, I am surprised that 2020 turned out fine. I published my first…


The quick answer: money and power.

I spent nine months this year investigating forest-use changes in Peninsular Malaysia. The project was sponsored by a grant from the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Journalism Fund and the stories — about 10,000 words across four parts — were published on Macaranga.

Here’s a condensed version written for those who prefer an 8-minute read.

Illustration of animals in a forest with depictions of money, logging and power trade below.
Illustration of animals in a forest with depictions of money, logging and power trade below.
Design: YHLaw

But before you dive into the story, let me explain quickly why this investigation focused on Peninsular Malaysia (also known as West Malaysia) and largely excluded Sabah and Sarawak, the two East Malaysian states on Borneo.

Because, firstly, Peninsular Malaysia has different forestry legislation and operations than…

Yao-Hua Law

Freelance science journalist in Malaysia. Stories in Macaranga, Science News, Science, BBC, Mosaic, Nikkei Asia. Loves durian. https://scienceilluminates.com

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