Name: Sonya Buyting
Born: Fredericton, New Brunswick
Profession: Science Journalism
You watch and read stories about science everyday, but how do they get on the news? We talk with Sonya Buyting, a segment producer for Discovery Channel's Daily Planet, to find out what a career that combines journalism and science is all about.
What is a segment producer?
We are the ones who put together the items you see on Daily Planet. Whether it's an interview or a short documentary (about 4 to 6 minutes long), these are the stories that we go out and look for in the world of science and the world in general.
Do you come up with your own story ideas or are they assigned to you?
I come up with most of my own ideas, but some are assigned. I'm constantly surfing the web, reading newspapers and magazines, and just looking around. There's science everywhere and there are cool stories all over the place.
What makes a good story idea for Daily Planet?
There has to be a good character in the story. This needs to be someone who people at home will care about whether or not he or she is successful in doing whatever it is that they're trying to do. We also have to be able to see some action. This is one of the toughest things about doing science stories because a lot of the time we hear about the results after the work is published, after the work is already done. So then we have to go back to see if we recreate the experiment or ask the scientist or researcher if they have any footage.
What's the most interesting segment you've produced?
The coolest project I've ever worked on was called "Calling All Aliens," where we asked Canadians what kind of message they would want to send out to aliens and why. We had people vote on their favourite entry and then, using a 13 meter antenna, we actually sent the message out into space! It was the coolest project ever!!
Do you find that any courses from high school prepared you for what you do now?
Typing! That was a big one!! I need to be able to take notes really fast, so that was very practical.
What was your favourite subject in high school?
My favourite subject in high school was chemistry and it wasn't because I totally got it; it's just because, for some reason, I was able to do really well in it. Then I went on in university to major in chemistry and biology, so a lot of it started making more sense!
Where did you go to University?
I went to the University of New Brunswick for my Bachelor of Science and then I went to Ryerson University to study Broadcast Journalism.
Do you need a science background to do science journalism?
It helps, but you don't need it. There are pros and cons on either side. If you have a science background then you already know what types of questions you should ask. My problem was that I used to get bogged down in details. The details fascinated me so it was hard to let go of them, but in a short television story, there just isn't enough time to say everything! If you don't have a science background then you can act as the audience who probably didn't take science in university, but are still curious about it.
What types of characteristics does someone need to do your job?
They have to be curious and persistent. When you're walking down the street and you see something that's cool, even "Why is the sky blue?" If you then want to go out and get that answer, then that's the first step. The second is actually taking action and going out and getting the answer to your question.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part of my job is the fact that I can talk to some of the most amazing, interesting, intelligent scientists in the world; the fact that I can be on that cutting-edge. The worst part of my job — I would say transcribing tapes!
Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in science journalism?
Write as much as you possibly can. There are so many places where you can write (like for your school newspaper). Just keep on writing and reading! The more you know, the better you'll do.
For more information on this profession, check out these great links:
The Canadian Science Writers' Association
Journalism School listings
To see what's happening on Daily Planet, visit the show at:
And for more about Sonya, check out her sassy science website at:
Thank you Rachelle Solomon for conducting this interview. Rachelle is currently finishing her Master's degree in Journalism at the University of Western Ontario. Even though her background is in the Arts (she graduated from McGill University with majors in Sociology and English), she likes keeping up with the latest in science news and quirky inventions. Her current favourite — carpet that glows in the dark!