As the chief news and features editor for Nature, I oversee the majority of Nature’s journalistic content, which amounts to about 60 news and features stories each month and reaches around 2.5 million readers online. My team includes 11 news and features editors, 13 reporters and 1-2 interns, who work in cities around the world, including London, Munich, Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Shanghai.
My work day begins at about 8.20 a.m., when I arrive at the train station after dropping my son at nursery. I check the news on my phone to find out what’s going on in the world that Nature should be covering. Often I’ll e-mail Nicky Phillips, our Asia Pacific bureau chief, who’s based in Sydney, because she will soon be clocking off. So I might look at a headline or discuss a story angle with her while she’s still around: with a global team, we are operating 24 hours a day. An hour later, I arrive at the office and try to get one big task done before my first meeting. This could be a ‘top edit’ of a story (adding polish after the main editor on the story has finished) about any aspect of research. I’ve recently top-edited news stories about disputes rocking the world’s largest laser project, funding cuts for studies of kids’ health, a second scientist planning to produce CRISPR-edited babies and a feature series on how China’s mega-project for global infrastructure is changing science.
At 10.15, it’s time for the London news meeting, led by Nisha Gaind, who heads our European Bureau. Each reporter gives an update of what has happened in their beat in the past 24 hours. Hearing about what is going on — the updates might range from a new particle discovered at the Large Hadron Collider, to a disease outbreak or a milestone paper that’s about to come out — is one of my favourite activities. We discuss what is worthy of coverage, and what angle we might take on a story, and Nisha runs through which stories are publishing online today. The art and multimedia teams come too.
We publish stories online every day, but we also publish the print issue, which creates a weekly cycle. If it’s a Tuesday, the news meeting is my last chance to weigh in on the print pages before they go to press, so I will be giving a final, careful read to lots of copy to be sure it is 100% right. We publish all our news stories online first, so we have to edit them again to ensure they fit the page.
If it’s a Friday, it’s time to work out which of the news stories that are running this week will go in print, and at what length; it’s also when the plan for these stories gets sent to the visuals team, subedtitors and the other news editors. The layout of the pages will be finalised later today.
On other days, it’s time to deal with urgent questions that are part of publishing high-quality journalism and running a big news team. I might need to have a conversation with our lawyers to understand whether one of our stories raises legal concerns. Other times I might need to help the team with a decision related to hiring. Or I could be helping another editor work out whether we have enough information to publish a particular story, or how best to tell that story.
By about 1.30 p.m., the US team is online and I usually email or speak with Lauren Morello, our Americas bureau chief in Washington DC.
One of the most rewarding things that I do is to craft compelling headlines with the other news and features editors, often using the team’s Slack #HeadlingWorkshopping channel. A headline is the essence of the story, encapsulating what has happened and why it’s interesting in the most compelling way possible. Finding that story nub and brainstorming on how to express it — often on very tight deadlines — is creative, rewarding and intense. It is also very important: we can spend weeks working on stories, but if we don’t give them good headlines, no one will read them.
The afternoon brings a maze of meetings. Every day at 3 p.m. I lead a phone meeting with representatives from the News, Features and Comment teams. We run through new commissions and discuss any events or journal papers that overlap between regions or teams.
On Tuesday, I lead the global news meeting, which is a key part of our week. My whole team, including all the reporters, chief magazine editor Helen Pearson and many others from the Nature front half, come together to lay out what they are working on. Anna Nagle and Josie Allchin from the engagement team also attend, to give an overview of how well our stories performed online, using data from Google Analytics, and on social media. We also use this time to plan reactions to specific news events — such as an election result or a controversy — and to update each other on plans for bigger stories, such as those involving investigations or data analyses.
It’s amazing, sometimes dizzying, to hear in the space of just an hour from reporters all over the globe. From bad behaviour in a laboratory, to a breakthrough on cancer or black holes, to the latest research decisions from government agencies, the meeting gives us an incredible overview of the world of research and makes me immensely proud of the talented team writing about these issues with such speed and accuracy.
On Wednesdays, we have a features meeting, led by chief features editor Richard Monastersky. This focuses on our bigger stories — which frequently win journalism awards. We discuss ideas for features and how to frame them, as well as conducting regular ‘post-mortems’ of past stories.
Between 5 and 6 p.m., I usually leave the office. I write e-mails on the train home and phone editors in the United States to discuss sudden issues. Then it’s time to pick up my son, and cut off from Nature for a while. I might re-emerge later, in particular if I owe the Asia Pacific bureau an edit or answer that they need for their work that day — which is just beginning now that mine is drawing to a close.
My most memorable experience at Nature has probably been working with our Asia Pacific correspondent David Cyranoski to break the story in April 2015 about the first gene-edited human embryos. That story made headlines around the world and transformed the debate about genetically modified humans. It’s amazing to see work we publish have that kind of impact.
The most rewarding aspect of my job is publishing original stories that are accurate, clear and compelling. This can be complicated and difficult. Among other things, it involves working out what is going on in the first place, making sure that the facts stand up and that a story is balanced, and devising a way to express events that is clear and interesting. And yet, somehow, my amazing team manages to do it — day in, day out, 60 times a month.