Blogging 2.0 Series: David Bradley
Welcome to the SciLogs’ Blogging 2.0 series! For the next few weeks, we are interviewing and inviting guest blog posts from renowned science bloggers and science writers, who are giving us their tips and advice on bringing your science blogging to the next level.
This week is David Bradley, freelance journalist specializing in science and technology. David, author of sciencebase.com, has worked in science communication since 1989, having set out as a chemist who quickly realized he was “better at the writing part than the rolling up the labcoat sleeves and mucking about with test-tubes.” He has written for my different sites over the years, including Science, Nature and PNAS. He also has a #1 bestselling book on Amazon: Deceived Wisdom - "Everything you thought was right is wrong."
SciLogs: You currently have nearly 32,000 followers on Twitter. How have social media tools helped you as a science writer / blogger? (How do you use them effectively to... Share your stories? Gain readership? Get story ideas?)
David: It seems like such a low Twitter count when compared to some, and I suspect a lot of them are old, dormant accounts or spambots, but it's gratifying to at least imagine that there are perhaps a few dozen of those followers interested in what I have to tweet. It is very useful to be able to share ideas, ask questions and post links to interesting finds and get an almost instant response from the Twitterhood though. It's definitely changed the way I work in that way, compared to how I was sharing and engaging with readers in the early 90s when I first started as a freelance science journalist. At that time, it was all phones, faxes and the occasional letter to the editor. Today, you're called out or cajoled within seconds of "publishing". It's a blessing and a curse, as they say, as it's always on and it's always after a response!
In terms of gaining readership, I think jumping on to Twitter early on helped, as did compiling lists before twitter lists of fellow writers and other science types, so that I was something of an evangelist (still am) in terms of persuading people of twitter's benefits.
— David Bradley (@sciencebase) October 22, 2013
SciLogs: How do you decide what to write about, and where do your story ideas come from?
David: Research journal papers, usually via tables of contents, conferences, particularly the poster sessions (although that's a bit less so these days) and, occasionally (maybe 2-3 times a month) old or new contacts offering me a lead on their latest "breakthrough" discovery. Or, one of my editors sends me stuff they'd like me to cover.
SciLogs: How do you decide what medium (blog, newspaper piece, magazine article, etc.) would be best for a given story idea?
David: I have a clutch of blogs and a bunch of clients all of which require specific subjects and topics. So, when I spot a story it almost assigns itself to the appropriate outlet. If there's a spectroscopy or cheminformatics angle, that will most likely end up in SpectroscopyNow. A materials science story, not surprisingly, will find itself in Materials Today. ChemistryViews and my Alchemist column on ChemWeb.com tend to hoover up the chemistry news. Oddities and outliers in science might find themselves on my own site sciencebase.com and I tend to write about technology on Sciencetext.com Then, of course, there's the music and photography stuff which goes to my Songs, Snaps & Science site - http://imagingstorm.co.uk
SciLogs: In 2001 you were shortlisted for the Pirelli Science Multimedia awards. Can you tell us more about how you use multimedia to complement your science writing/reporting/blogging?
David: Gosh, that's so long ago, and seems so irrelevant now, given that the whole of web 2.0 emerged in the interim. I think at the time we were using 3D molecular graphics on the Reactive Reports site to illustrate chemistry news and that was part of the reason for the shortlisting. That site still exists but is something of a "cob web site" these days, with only occasional updates as the original backer is no longer involved.
SciLogs: What are the most important elements of writing a blog about science that audiences will want to avidly read?
David: The most important aspects I reckon are to get the science across with the minimal of jargon. It's not dumbing down but lay readers don't need to know words like diastereoisomers or enantiomeric excess, at least not in the first paragraph. The great Tim Radford who was science editor at The Guardian when I was writing for that paper (again in the 1990s) gave me the best piece of advice when I submitted a rather dry story early on in my career, he said "just make it a little more poetic", so I did and it won me a few awards back then. I think it always serves you well to pick sexy topics...literally. Some of my biggest stories early in my career were about sex. Sex sells. Even if it is just about the biggest organism having the biggest orgasm, in the form of Australia's Great Barrier Reef and its annual spawning around the first full moon in November.
When orgasm triggers a light show - The first ever study of synaesthetic sex http://t.co/WEkmI83ydy
— David Bradley (@sciencebase) October 28, 2013
SciLogs: What other advice would you give to science bloggers wishing to grow their readership? How did you at first, and how do you now, attract your audience?
David: I guess having been almost a quarter of a century in the business, I was very much pre-web to start with. I even remember one well-known science magazine turning down a news story I pitched on this thing we now know as the Web! But, I don't know how big my "audience" is. The websites certainly get reasonably high levels of traffic and my editors seem happy with readership numbers. One was recently not only amused by a particularly pun-ny headline, but rather pleased that it brought the publication quite a hefty traffic spike.
SciLogs: Is / how important is online networking in the world of science journalism and in the science blogosphere?
David: Well, the "good old days" of phone and fax, the pre-web era I alluded to a couple of times above, it was simpler, it seems, but then I'm into science and tech, and I was never that keen on simplicity. I much prefer the interactions, the urgency, the rapid response and the social interactions afforded by the world of new media. It's given me something to do for the last few years and thankfully paid the bills too.
Follow David on Twitter @sciencebase.