As a reporter for Nature News and Comment, my goal is to write engaging stories about consequential science, including discoveries and trends, and about people breaking new ground. I frequently cover infectious diseases, evolution, and research in California that deploys new technologies such as blockchain for medical data. I reported on science in Africa before coming to Nature, and I’ve continued that here. My most recent reporting trip was to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I accompanied the director general of the World Health Organization to the site of the Ebola outbreak, to document this unprecedented situation and the WHO’s role in it for our journal.
On any given day, I’m searching for ideas, reporting, writing and revising stories. I work out of my one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, or at a shared office space that I rent in Oakland. But I’m in touch with my editors in Washington, DC and New York City throughout the day.
My days typically begin around 7 a.m. Pacific time, because I need to reply to urgent e-mails and call scientists in other parts of the world. These calls are conversational. I don’t use a set of scripted questions because I learn more by being open.
My mind works best in the morning, so I try to segue into writing or revising a piece by 10 a.m. To give an example of a recent day, I started by reading the daily situation report on the Ebola outbreak, in case there was something newsworthy, such as the introduction of a new vaccine. Then I moved on to the final stages of a feature on the science and ethics of tracking people through their phone records. To make sure I had understood some technicalities correctly for a graph in the piece, I called an applied mathematician in London. Next, I carefully read through the page proof. In addition to a handful of changes, I wanted to be sure we had the tone right in a few places because certain issues are sensitive. So I called my editor on the piece, Richard van Noorden. We talked about the piece for about an hour.
I walked to a grocery store near my apartment to get lunch, and considered editorials that could address some of the many ethical quandaries that had troubled me while writing this story. For instance, people did not consent to participate in the surveillance studies I covered. After lunch, I sent a list of potential angles to the editors of our opinion pieces.
After that, I read an e-mail from an evolutionary biologist who had told me about a finding on cephalopods. I thought it was interesting, so I boiled his investigation down to a couple of paragraphs and pitched it as an online story to my news editor.
Then I noticed a press release about an HIV outbreak affecting almost exclusively children allegedly infected by dirty needles in Pakistan. I flagged it to my editors in Washington DC, suggesting that this warranted a “news in brief” because it’s unusual to have such a high, sudden spike in cases among kids. They agreed. I wrote 150 words and turned it in.
Photo by John Wessels.