Covering Science and Technology: So you want to be a tech writer?

David Wolman and Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk) led the conversation for the last panel this afternoon.

Informational interviews are a key part of finding stories, David says. He consumes a lot of coffee, talks with people about what they’re working on, and then also asks about what else they’re working on. That secondary information can lead to interesting pieces down the road.

Marshall has a detailed workflow for tracking down stories in the tech sector. He’s been working for ReadWriteWeb for the last year and a half, and is responsible for two to three posts a day. Most of the time, stories are “interrupt-driven” or dependent on the news of the day. The whole staff logs into a single Fever account to share RSS reading responsibilities.

One source of feeds is pretty ingenious. A research assistant dug up people who first linked popular web services such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. on Delicious. He did so for a number of startups over the last couple of years and put all of that information on a spreadsheet. Based on this aggregate information, he was able to identify 15 or so people who regularly link upcoming web services before anyone else. Subscribing to these Delicious accounts has multiple stories a week about hot new startups.

Most of the ReadWriteWeb writers use Tweetdeck for Twitter. Marshall has the 4,000+ people he’s following organized into different categories, including NY Times, analysts, augmented reality, etc. The team has a Skype chat they keep open 24 hours for coordinating on stories. They use hashtags within the conversation to enable people to find information of a specific type (i.e. which stories need editing with #edit).

For tracking reactions to pieces he’s written, Marshall searches for conversations based on a specific URL with Friendfeed, based on the ReadWriteWeb domain in Digg, and recently favorited tweets.

Libby Tucker notes that the differences between David and Marshall’s reporting styles. David flies to Urbana, Illinois to interview a scientist, whereas Marshall notes that if he has to put his pants on, it’s a big day.

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