Graduate Spotlight: Journalist and Writer Emma Elobeid
26 June 2023
Since completing her master’s degree at Falmouth University in 2022, Emma Elobeid has been making waves in the world of science journalism. We chatted to her about storytelling, studying online and how the MA helped her to find her journalistic voice.
Emma Elobeid, 2022 Journalism MA (Online) graduate and now Senior Editor at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has recently been selected as one of just three finalists for the Association of British Science Writers’ 'Newcomer of the Year' award. This year, the awards received 260 entries across 15 categories.
One of Emma’s pieces which impressed the judges was her master’s final major project 'A Porpoise Named Peppa’, a long-form hyperlocal ‘climate and coastal community’ investigation into the discovery of a porpoise carcass on an Isle of Wight beach. Yet, with no formal science qualifications, how has Emma forged a blossoming career as a science writer?
What makes you passionate about journalism and storytelling?
It is such a privilege to take things – whether that’s expert insight or something they’ve seen or experienced – that people have shared with you and turn them into a story. I think it is partly a semi-narcissistic act of creating something magical, and partly the act of human translation; knowing that if you hadn’t told it in that way, it wouldn’t exist, is really satisfying.
What has been a highlight of your time as Editor at The Ellen MacArthur Foundation?
Having previously worked as Editor of the Isle of Wight’s lifestyle magazine Style of Wight, it has felt very different! Although I did shoehorn a lot of climate and community features into my work at Style of Wight, I essentially went overnight from commissioning and writing for a very general audience to a place where I am required to navigate a huge amount of economically and environmentally complex information.
I honestly think that it’s my very unscientific background – and maybe also that journalistic determination to get to the bottom of something – that helps me turn information-dense insight into stories that make sense.
My job is roughly a 50/50 split between two areas. The first is shaping narratives and co-creating reports on global circular economy policies and progress across different industries, such as ‘The Global Commitment’, which holds big businesses to account on their commitments to eliminate plastic pollution and demonstrator projects that help the global fashion industry shift towards a circular economy. I work closely with analysts and in-house experts to create reports which are read by policymakers and business leaders who have the power to enact real change.
My other area of focus is on a pipeline of articles, and I’m passionate about championing this vital storytelling role. There are two pieces I’m particularly proud of: one of them is called ‘How the circular economy can help us to stay within planetary boundaries’, which is a multimedia article published on Shorthand (the digital storytelling platform recommended to me by course leader Dr Kit Chapman for ‘A Porpoise Named Peppa’). The piece connected a well-known climate framework to the circular economy, for the first time – that felt like a big moment, and it has been widely shared which is great.
The second piece I’m proud of is a recent two-part article series on ocean regeneration, published to coincide with World Ocean Day. We were able to be a bit more experimental and lyrical; my co-writer (Tansy Robertson-Fall) and I included a more personal tone in parts. It can be easy to slip into a kind of ‘B2B content writing’ tone when writing for a broad business audience – but I think it’s important to remember that policymakers are people as well!
How does it feel to be named a finalist in the ‘Newcomer of the Year’ category of the Association of British Science Writers Awards 2023?
It’s utter madness; never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get shortlisted in the final three. It’s particularly surprising because while my day job is now in climate science communications, I don’t have a single science qualification. I was staunchly, rebelliously, anti-science at school and ended up doing my GCSEs from home after a bit of an academic breakdown. Thanks to a supportive headteacher, I returned to the school and did a suite of humanities heavy A-Levels before my first degree in Publishing Media.
But I often wonder if that’s part of the reason why I can do what I do now; whenever I came up against something that didn’t quite add up while working on ‘A Porpoise Named Peppa’, I was very literal when working through the information, almost piecing together the disparate threads into the story itself, acknowledging rather than attempting to hide from the complexity.
At the Foundation, I work alongside people who are experts in their field as well as researching complex climate topics myself. I honestly think that it’s my very unscientific background – and maybe also that journalistic determination to get to the bottom of something – that helps me turn information-dense insight into stories that make sense.
Kit’s advice to “trust my gut” was vital in terms of finding my voice, and I’m so glad he introduced me to the field of narrative non-fiction journalism.
What made you choose Falmouth for your master's?
I was already very focused on the idea of writing about the intersection of climate and coastal communities, because they are so underserved as an audience group – very few people tell their stories, and if they do, it isn’t generally in a long-form or nuanced way. Falmouth seemed very much aligned to that nexus.
I also felt quite a strong connection between the Isle of Wight and Falmouth; I only visited for the first time last year, but it really reminded me of a town on the Isle of Wight called Ventnor which has a great fringe festival and an active arts scene, so it felt familiar both culturally and creatively.
What was the most valuable thing you learned on the course?
Definitely the investigative encouragement and advice from the academics on the course. If it weren’t for Kate de Pury telling me to pluck up the courage and “just pick up the phone”, ‘A Porpoise Named Peppa’ would just be an anecdote I talked about; the time I found a carcass on an Isle of Wight beach. The process of working on that piece was very personal; the main theme was about understanding complexity and coming to terms with things not being black and white. Kit’s advice to “trust my gut” was also vital in terms of finding my voice, and I’m so glad he introduced me to the field of narrative non-fiction journalism.
The webinars from visiting journalists were also excellent; one that springs to mind was when Raphael Satter from Reuters talked about consciously cultivating your sources. This really helped my work on ‘A Porpoise Named Peppa’ when tracking down and persuading crucial sources. I’m naturally an introvert but having a journalist’s mask on really helped me during the investigation – one of the story's biggest scoops came about from me just walking up to a council worker and asking a question.
How did you find studying online?
I’ve always been quite self-motivated which I think is important. An interesting parallel occurred to me recently, that journalism is all about holding power to account, and doing an online master’s part-time while working full-time requires you to hold yourself to account. There were admittedly a lot of late nights and early mornings, but I really enjoyed the flexibility; it fitted in well with my role at Style of Wight at the time, which wasn’t a traditional nine to five job.
It was also amazing how well you get to know people online, which has continued after finishing the course; we follow each other on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, and support each other’s work, which really means something two years down the line. It’s exciting to see people pursue their passions.
Top image credit: Reuben Mowle