For Gordon, a veteran radio journalist, this year is ultimately about learning how to tell stories with creativity as well as nuance.
Elana Gordon’s first on-air experience was as a fill-in host for a niche radio show. The program, which aired around 1 a.m. on Sundays, featured music from around the globe. “It would be like, ‘tonight we’re gonna listen to, music of Bulgaria.’ And then I’d realize the records ran out, and I’d be like ‘we’re gonna take a little geographic turn here,’” she recounts.
The station was Columbia University’s WKCR. Just a few steps across Broadway was Barnard College, where Gordon majored in music and political science. Today, in a way, she’s come full circle. Music is still an integral part of what she does — only now, she uses it to tell larger stories with voice and sound.
After graduation, Gordon moved to Kansas City, where she pivoted towards social service. As a community organizer, she interviewed people about issues within their neighborhoods. Later, as an HIV counselor at the main health clinic in the region to offer anonymous testing, she continued to listen to individual and community concerns. The stories were raw and powerful — and they began to pile up. She felt that they deserved to be told.
While still working at the health clinic, she found herself drawn to radio once again, and began interning for Kansas City station KCUR. When an opening arose for a full-time health reporter, she was eager to fill it.
The newsroom was small, so in addition to health, she covered elections, breaking news, and extreme weather. One of the programs she worked on was a weekly magazine show, where she had a chance to experiment more than she’d been able to with conventional hard-news programming.
“I just always found myself gravitating to storytelling too, and wanted a bigger space for that,” she says.
After five years at KCUR, Gordon heard that WHYY in Philadelphia was starting a show dedicated to health and science. The chance to work as part of a health and science team, and to explore different projects, was enticing. So, she returned to the East Coast. For that program, now known as The Pulse, she has reported on addiction, the costs of medical treatment, and even the search for a one-eyed horse thief’s preserved brain.
The fact that Cambridge is a hub for research, innovation, and policy is only part of what drew Gordon to the Knight Science Journalism program. She also wanted to focus on how to be a more informed journalist, and to explore ways to unveil the stories behind science that don’t always get reported. Ultimately, for her, this year is about learning how to tell stories with creativity as well as nuance.
By the end of this year, she says, “I hope to have listened to a lot more science storytelling, audio, and print, and really taken in a lot more of what’s out there — to really think thoughtfully about how we tell these stories, and how we can do some surprising things and tell them in deeper or different ways. I think there’s a lot of amazing stuff out there.”
This is the fifth in a series of profiles of the 2018-19 Knight Science Journalism fellows, written by students in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.