Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’ve been self-employed in New York City since 2004, when I left Business Week. I’m a native of Michigan (for a map, hold up your right palm; I was born near the fleshy part of your thumb, in a suburb of Detroit), and my first full-time journalism job was with the Lowell, Mass. Sun. I began by covering the Lowell suburb of Dracut—working hard to earn my promotion to the city staff, where I covered what I think was the nation’s first urban national park, devoted to Lowell’s textile mills.
I came up through newspapers and the Associated Press, where I worked for 15 years, all but the first two years of that as science editor. I have a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT, which had nothing to do with my science writing career—except that it prompted editors to send me out on “science” stories (rising gas prices, nuclear plant protests). I liked it, and it was a great way to distinguish myself from the rest of the staff. That is how I became a science writer.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
When I worked at the AP, I fought the image that many then had of AP reporters—they were fast, clear, and could do almost anything in 500 words. But they couldn’t do much else. I freelanced for magazines as much as I could, and I wrote my first book, The Last Harvest, about agriculture and the environment, while I was working full time at the AP. (I know others have done that sort of thing, too, but I don’t recommend it. A much better plan is to be independently wealthy.)
I moved to Business Week as science editor for seven years, where I wrote two more books, one on Mars for National Geographic, and a memoir called Acquainted with the Night. I left Business Week to write the last one, and so was able to immerse myself in it. I liked that. I detoured through radio, including hosting two shows on XM for a couple of years, but mostly stuck with print.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
These days I’m holding down multiple jobs, somehow, including writing for magazines, blogging at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, teaching, and working (slowly) on my fourth book, called Do Fathers Matter?
My goals? I’m a slow learner. I seem to learn something with each piece I write, so my goal is to keep getting better at this—and to try to shed a little light in dark corners while doing it.
How does blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you integrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I’m blogging at the Tracker, and I’ve blogged for Psychology Today and others. I find it to be incredibly liberating. I think I get more story ideas and tips—and more wonderful reading—from FB and Twitter than anywhere else now. The online activity is essential to my work, and it has opened up all kinds of new opportunities for all of us—something I don’t have to explain to the ScienceOnline crowd. If all of this had not happened, I’m sure I would enjoy writing for newspapers and magazines and book publishers, but it’s incredibly exciting to be exploring a whole new world after more than 20 years as a reporter. I feel very fortunate to be around for the revolution.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you?
The energy—the energy! No other conference I’ve attended as a reporter has been fueled by so much enthusiasm, energy, and excitement about telling the kinds of stories we tell.
Thank you so much for the interview. See you again in January!