MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program and STAT, the nation’s must-read health, science, and medicine publication, have announced Deborah Balthazar as the 2023-2024 recipient of the Sharon Begley Science Reporting Fellowship. Named in honor of Sharon Begley, an award-winning science writer for STAT who died in January 2021 from complications of lung cancer, the one-year fellowship was established with the goal of diversifying the ranks of science and health journalists and fostering better coverage of science that is relevant to all people.
Balthazar earned a master’s degree from New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and studied biology as an undergraduate. She worked as an intern at Science News, as well as Scholastic’s SuperScience and Science World, and reported for a local news site in her hometown in New Jersey.
“Deborah impressed us with her passion for journalism and, to quote one of her professors, ‘old-fashioned grit,’” said Gideon Gil, a managing editor at STAT. ”Local reporting jobs don’t pay nearly enough but that didn’t deter Deborah, who took on a second job as a substitute teacher so she could continue pursuing journalism. We look forward to helping her grow as a health and science journalist and continue Sharon’s extraordinary legacy.”
The fellowship prepares early-career U.S. journalists from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the profession for a successful career in science journalism. It combines a paid reporting position at STAT with an educational component provided through the Knight Science Journalism program. The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative has provided funding for the program since its start in 2021.
“It’s a pleasure to be a partner in this important fellowship,” said Ashley Smart, associate director of the Knight Science Journalism Program. “We believe that by helping to support the work and visibility of smart journalists from underrepresented backgrounds, we help to fundamentally improve science journalism itself. We’re looking forward to welcoming Deborah to the program.”
Balthazar, who starts July 11, will be the fourth Sharon Begley Fellow. The inaugural fellow, Isabella Cueto, was hired by STAT to report on chronic diseases after completing her fellowship. The current fellows, Ambar Castillo and Brittany Trang, will finish their tenures in August.
Begley, STAT’s senior science writer, was one of the nation’s finest science journalists and was known for her enthusiasm for mentoring and teaching the next generation. She was especially eager to help other women advance in a profession that, when she began as a researcher at Newsweek in 1977, was unwelcoming. She later worked at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, before joining STAT at its founding in 2015. Her legacy includes her powerful advocacy for people of color, exemplified by a series she wrote in 2016 and 2017 about the neglect by scientists, government funders, drugmakers, and hospitals of patients with sickle cell disease, who in the U.S. are predominantly Black. This fellowship pays tribute to her outstanding career while paving the way for the next generation of science journalists.