A veteran of The New York Times and STAT, DelViscio is at MIT trying to get a head start on the future of storytelling.
Jeff DelViscio has big dreams for science communication. As a one-time climate researcher, now veteran science journalist and multimedia producer, he feels it is a critical time to find innovative ways to show how the world is changing — and to prepare people to adapt. That’s why he recently took leave from his role as director of multimedia at STAT to become a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT. He’s exploring augmented and virtual reality to see what’s possible for the next era of storytelling.
DelViscio has always been inspired by the stories hidden in the world around him. He says he wants to “see into” things: the electrons powering a streetlamp, the geologic history of stones lining a walkway. Augmented reality could be used to show people these inner worlds, and get them excited about science. It could also show people future scenarios—say, allow them to look at a landscape and experience how it might change over different timescales.
Long before DelViscio got interested in journalism, he had a knack for science. Raised in Newburgh, New York, he recalls being a star student of his eighth-grade geology class. As only a sophomore in the Earth science department at Wesleyan University, he received a rare invitation to spend a summer in the field. He worked as the shipboard technician on a research vessel off the coast of California, measuring millennial-scale climate changes using sediment cores taken from the ocean floor.
After graduating in 2002, DelViscio could have continued on to a PhD at Columbia’s Earth Institute. But with offer in hand, he had a change of heart. He didn’t want to specialize, he wanted to influence the broader implications of the work. So instead, he moved to Washington, D.C., and landed a job looking into money in climate and pharma research at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. His boss at CSPI ran the team like an investigative reporting unit, and that helped him realize what he really wanted to do. In 2004, he moved to New York to attend Columbia University’s joint master’s program in journalism and environmental science.
He never wanted to exclusively write, which was an unpopular position at the time. As one of just a few students in the “new media” concentration, he was recognized for producing inventive, interactive projects using audio, video, and web design. Upon graduation, he leveraged that talent into a job at The New York Times’ nascent digital department, where he stayed for almost nine years.
DelViscio is proud of his tenure at The Times. He was there when journalism was being reinvented, modernized. He got to report on major historical events such as the execution of Saddam Hussain, the Hokkaido earthquake, and the Chilean miners. But there were challenges. He describes a culture war between digital and print, where writers didn’t understand or respect the work he and his colleagues were doing. He was often referred to as “web guy.”
After almost a decade, he took a buyout to leave the Times, ready for something new. When he was approached by a new science journalism startup, STAT, to head up their multimedia department, he jumped at the opportunity. At STAT he could build a team from the ground up to produce stories the way he always thought it should be done. After three and a half years, he’s largely succeeded, but he doesn’t want his methods to become stale, especially with the looming threats posed by climate change. That’s why he’s here at KSJ, trying to get a head start on the future of storytelling.
This is the sixth in a series of profiles of the 2018-19 Knight Science Journalism fellows, written by students in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.