I commented a number of times (and so have others!) on the good job that NPR's Joe Palca did with tough live on-air conversations on last Wednesday's Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I submitted some questions through NPR's website and Mr. Palca graciously answered the questions on the record. (I'll note that I have edited the questions to make them make a little more sense. Edits are made with [brackets])
CJ: How much lead time did [you] have for the Morning Edition conversation with Steve Inskeep?
Joe Palca: I was able to download the Nobel press material at approximately 5:50 a.m. ET. I had arranged to speak with Joe Francisco at 6:15. I had to write an Intro and questions for Steve Inskeep by 6:30. We did our chat live at 6:40.
CJ: Did [you] listen to the press conference?
JP: No. I listened to the Negishi/Purdue press conference…but I can tell you that there was not a single question about the science.
CJ: When [you] did the live feeds with Craig Windham, how many hours had [you] known about the story? (Note: NPR's top of the hour news updates often feature a live conversation between the anchor and a reporter.)
JP: I only did one live chat with Windham. That was at 7. I finished with Steve at 6:45, so I had a few more minutes to review the press materials. The other newscast piece you heard from me was prerecorded around 7:15.
CJ: Who did [you] consult with to understand palladium catalysis?
JP: Joe Francisco. But truthfully, as someone who enjoyed organic chemistry in college, I felt confident that I could explain a palladium catalyzed reaction that “makes new molecules” without too much difficulty…I would have needed more advice if I had wanted to get into the specifics of the reactions.
CJ: What could the chemistry community do to help reporters like [you] do a good job?
JP: The American Chemical Society has now joined the American Physical Society in being proactive in providing experts…it is extremely useful.
(CJ here again.) I'll stick to my previous analogy: the science Nobel Prizes must be the science reporter's equivalent of Iron Chef. Palca had about 50 to 60 minutes to prepare for two live conversations on palladium catalysis. It took me about an hour to write up my thoughts on the palladium Nobel; organic chemistry is my daily life, and I'm not sure I did much better. It's also good to know that ACS is willing to help on chemistry's (hopefully!) one big day each year.
Thanks again to NPR's Joe Palca for his willingness to comment about his reporting process.