Shannon Palus, a member of the Germantown Friends School Class of 2008 and a science writer and editor at Slate, Zoomed in to discuss her career, ethical issues in reporting and her writing process.
Students in the Upper School Journalism: Ethics and Activism elective at Germantown Friends School spent most of their first semester examining, discussing, and writing about ethical issues in the news through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, and various other case studies involving privacy, transparency, and fairness. Visits by guest journalists gave their work an added “real world” perspective and urgency.
“It’s an incredible time to be teaching this course,” says Meg Cohen Ragas, a former magazine editor and the director of publications at GFS, who co-teaches the class with the English department’s Anne Gerbner. “The Black Lives Matter movement, the events of the November elections, and the global pandemic have personally impacted our students’ lives and have provided unparalleled material and situations for them to study ethics and pursue activism through journalism. Inviting working journalists to visit the class is the best way for them to see firsthand what a career in journalism looks like.”
On Monday, Dec. 14, Shannon Palus, a member of the GFS Class of 2008 and a science writer and editor at Slate, Zoomed in to discuss her career, ethical issues in reporting and her writing process. Although Palus didn’t contribute to the student newspaper when she was at GFS, she recalled the freeing experience of being in Gerbner’s eleventh grade English class and realizing that there was a lot more to writing than the five-paragraph essay.
Palus also remembered taking Washington Post features writer Karen Heller’s Essentially English journalism course, where Heller instructed the students not to major in journalism in college.
“She told us to major in something else, join the student paper, and then write about that,” Palus shared. “She also told us that if we wanted to make a living as writers, we should go into journalism.” (Heller visited the Ethics and Activism class earlier in the fall.)
Palus heeded both pieces of advice, studying physics at McGill University in Montreal and writing for student publications, then pursuing a freelance journalism career after graduation. She worked as a fact checker (“It allows you to follow in the footsteps of more experienced writers”) and contributed to publications such as The Atlantic, Scientific American, Popular Science, and Wirecutter, a product review website (now owned by The New York Times), where she eventually spent two years as a staff writer. “It made me think about how science journalism can apply to the world,” Palus said. After two years of reviewing everything from Dyson hair dryers to compression socks, she moved on to her current position at Slate.
During her class visit, Palus discussed three of her articles and answered many questions, ranging from how long it takes her to write a story (anywhere from an hour to a few days), how social media has impacted journalism, and what she likes most about working at Slate.
“I wanted to get back to a place of writing in my own voice,” she shared. “I had something I wanted to say.”