Elizabeth has had a long career at the forefront of science and health journalism and she has advice that rings true for pitching media in any vertical or tier. As Media Relations Specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and former CNN staff writer she emphasizes presenting the human side of your story. Whether by words or by pictures, find the best way to make a writer care.
1. What publications/ outlets are you currently reporting for?
My main position is as a media relations specialist for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). But I am doing some freelance writing for New Scientist, Scientific American MIND and the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Previously, I was a staff writer for CNN.com for six years.
2. What topics/ beats/ stories are of special interest to you right now?
All things science! At JPL I lead the media effort for the Dawn mission, the Voyager mission and various technology projects. For my freelance writing, I’m very interested in neuroscience and psychology, but also particle physics. The LHC is restarting this year and I’m excited to see what physicists find as more data gets collected and particle collisions occur at higher energies.
3. Please provide a brief bio.
Elizabeth Landau has loved writing since she made a newspaper with crayon and construction paper at age 5. At Princeton University, she majored in anthropology, while delving into as many journalistic extracurricular activities as she could find. She did a minor in creative writing to get a bigger perspective on storytelling. At Columbia University she earned a Master’s in Journalism with a concentration in politics, but knew she wanted to return to science writing at some point.
At CNN.com she was a writer/producer for more than six years and co-founded the science blog Light Years. Today she is a media relations specialist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and does freelance writing on the side. She has interviewed countless scientists, doctors, engineers and others throughout her career. Arguably, the award for most famous people she has interviewed goes to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne.
4. Why did you become a journalist?
I just love stories, and I believe that there are really great ones that aren’t being told. It’s a profession that would let me learn new things every day, and communicate new insights to the world. I knew I wouldn’t be bored!
5. What story of yours are you most proud of and why?
When I was at CNN, it was amazing to cover the excitement around Mars rover Curiosity in 2012. I got to visit NASA JPL and interview then-rover-driver Scott Maxwell. There was so much energy around the “seven minutes of terror” required to land Curiosity. I really enjoyed getting to know Scott and I came away from this project more appreciative than ever of the wonders of space exploration. My experience reporting on Curiosity was part of what attracted me to my current job at JPL.
CNN – His Other Car Is On Mars
6. What’s the best pitch you ever got?
I was once pitched the story of a veteran who relies on a service dog, and this pitch came to my email inbox exactly at the time I was looking into the topic of pets as mental health aids. It was a really perfect fit. The pitch came in by email with a picture of the subject, so I could immediately connect to this potential interviewee. I no longer have the pitch… This was in 2012 but I still remember it.
7. What was so good about it?
It was well-written and clearly presented a person who would be interesting for a story, along with a photo of the subject. It was concise but had the essential details of who this person was and why he had an interesting story to tell. And, by the sheer coincidence of the topic, it fit right into something I was already working on.
8. What are some tips for people who want to pitch you a story?
Get to the point immediately. Tell me why I or anyone else should care about this story. If there is a larger theme, mention it. If there are pictures available, say so. Don’t call – just email.
9. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I speak Spanish and I have a very basic knowledge of German, in addition to having dabbled in Russian and Hebrew. Learning languages has always been really fun for me, and I love the way that different languages embody different ways of describing the world.