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Katie Drummond – Science Editor, The Verge

In just two years from its launch, The Verge has assembled an extensive team of editors and reporters who explore technology’s reach into science, art and culture. The site initially focused squarely on technology, but recently expanded its scope with a hard science section that’s already provided a myriad of stories on the latest news within the field, from NASA projects and global warming predictions to the development of a bionic ear and a robot that can detect bad breath. The section’s introductory video speaks on the endless possibilities and hopes science provides within our reach in the next decades, such as telekinesis, kidney regeneration and space travel. It closes with the statement, “Science never gives up, and never stops looking for answers. All you have to do is ask the questions.”

And the leader asking those questions is Katie Drummond, the new science editor for the site.

“[Verge editor] Joshua Topolsky described the new scope perfectly as ‘the culture of now’,” Drummond explained. “The goal is to show readers what’s going on now that will affect their health, environment and their children. It’s a logical step, since a lot of writers here are well-versed in covering technology, and science can be a dense area to make easy to digest for readers. The ability to create this section was built in when I arrived.”

With one month under her belt, Drummond said she plans to make the section’s content comprehensible by building out interactive features. “We’re looking at new ways to explain scientific concepts, including narrative videos, short games to help teach viewers while they’re engaged, and more immersive long-form features to provide an interactive and visual element.”

Drummond arrived at The Verge from Prevention, where she worked as the news director, and she said her move from health to science coverage was innate. Having watched both of her parents experience different illnesses when she was quite young, she found that learning to understand those health experiences opened her eyes to science.

“Growing up, I had a very intimate understanding of how your mental and physical health can impact your entire life and the lives of those who care about you. My dad cared a lot about his own health, and was very proactive in improving and managing it. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but if you want to make money as a writer you have to become a journalist. I soon realized I could actually take what mattered to me in a huge way and make money writing about it. So joining Prevention was an obvious and intuitive choice. On the flip side, when The Verge offered an opportunity to start a science section, it was pretty hard to turn down.”

Her career in journalism is due in part to her time as a reporter at Danger RoomWired magazine’s blog dedicated to national security topics. She cites Danger Room editor, Noah Shachtman, as a pillar in her foundation as a journalist.

“When I interned at Wired, he invited me to do some posts for the section to practice my writing. And that ended up essentially setting trajectory for the rest of my career. Noah taught me a lot about concise writing, and the importance of being aggressive, particularly as a young woman in the field. I was a writer when I met him, and now I’m a journalist.”

Although she’s part of a generation that’s deemed a driving force behind social media, Drummond seeks to maintain balance as a science journalist utilizing different platforms, as she reads through TweetDeck columns and indexed RSS feeds.

“Social media is a really effective medium for researchers and institutions to communicate what’s going on in the field without having to make hundreds of calls,” Drummond said. “At the same time, I think there’s a risk of getting pulled away from the personal interaction. I’m wary of relying solely in press releases via Twitter. I spend a lot of my days on the phone asking what’s new. We really prioritize reporting here, and I think that’s increasingly rare in journalism and particularly online. But for us, it’s a non-starter that if you’re doing something longer than 100 words or going to check something, you’re going to get on the phone.”

The research ethic that Drummond emphasizes to her team is one that she also recommends to aspiring science journalists. Referring back to her days at Wired, she said she always sought ways to interact with experts and was quick to attend conferences. She also advises those considering science writing not to be deterred by any lack of academic background.

“Science is a huge area, so you’ll be covering a lot of different realms – like biology, chemistry, physics, psychiatry and health – and reporting about the whole gamut. Don’t be intimidated by your background in covering any of these subjects. It’s all available for you to educate yourself about. You need to understand the subject before you can relate it to readers.”

Drummond went on to advise, “Science can be dense and technical, so be aware of that when writing something, and run it past someone else or read it out loud to maintain accuracy but make sure it makes sense to readers. You’ll be spreading the importance of science to people, and not all of them will have PhDs. The readers most likely don’t understand all of this yet, and it’s your job to help them do that.”

Pitching Tips

Drummond simply advises PR professionals to review the site and understand the audience before pitching any of the staff.

She is best reached via email.

Follow Drummond on Twitter at @katiedrumm and The Verge at @verge.

About Allison Richard

Allison Richard writes features and leads international content for Cision Blog. She oversees east Asian media for the research department, which suits her perfectly as she loves languages and culture. She also likes yoga, useless trivia, painting and comedy, in no particular order. Follow her on Twitter at @AllieTimes.

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