Interview with Rosie Mestel, Executive Editor of Knowable Magazine

Rosie Mestel is executive editor of Knowable Magazine.  She was previously the West Coast correspondent for New Scientist, a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times and Chief Magazine Editor at Nature. She is in an interview with Viney Kirpal, a Health and Personal essay writer.

VK: Hi. What does the title “Knowable” mean and what makes its mission distinctive?

RM: The magazine aims to delineate what’s known about the world, in terms of the best current scientific evidence. But we wanted to expand that. We believe that many, many things in this world are “knowable” — even if they aren’t known yet — and so we set that as our scope. We considered a large number of potential names for the magazine, but none seemed to capture what we are about better than “Knowable Magazine.”

In many respects, we are similar to other high-quality journalism outlets tackling science-based topics through a rigorous, accessible and evidence-based lens. I would say that one thing that sets us apart from many is our extremely high standards. We are perfectionists.

Not focusing on news also sets us apart, freeing us up to tell science’s longer, larger stories.

Another is the fact that our content is always free to access and free to republish if simple guidelines are followed. This is in keeping with the ethos of our parent company, Annual Reviews, which strives to find ways to make knowledge available to all.Through those scholarly reviews, we also have a unique model whereby anyone accessing our content gets to view, for free, some of the scholarly scientific literature that underpins the findings described in the article (see the “deeper dives” section at the end of Knowable articles.)

VK: What does science in our times mean to your readers?

RM: Haha, you would have to ask them! But I can tell you what we strive for with our content. We are eager to understand how things work out of sheer curiosity — because there’s much to be amazed at and delighted by in this world, including the ingenuity of those who have figured things out. We also want to know why certain things happen, and how to solve pressing problems in an evidence-based way, for very practical reasons. We believe that the scientific approach is the best way to arrive at these answers. I would imagine our readers might similarly view science in our time as a way to understand the world and how to fix its problems.

VK: Your publication works with ideas from 51Annual Reviews journals. Do you invite pitches or commission completed contributions?

RM: There is a relationship between Knowable Magazine and the technical articles published in the 51 Annual Reviews journals of our parent company. But the relationship is less direct than this question implies. We often draw on these journal articles for initial inspiration for articles, but that is just a starting point. From there, we identify the story and its focus, and the writer reports it and writes it as they would any piece of journalism.

Often, we or a writer will have an idea for a story that they/we arrived at differently. In that case, because our model is to create a bridge between popular science articles and the technical literature, we always find at least one related Annual Reviews article that the reader may read (for free, of course) if they want to dig deeper into a topic. We also usually try to interview the author of a review among the mix of scientists who are sources for the article.

We do invite pitches and we also seek writers for stories we know we want — but in the latter case, we approach writers we have worked with before.

VK: Words, infographics, slideshows and comics make for a unique combination. How did the idea occur to you and how well has it worked for your readers and writers?

RM: There are a variety of reasons why we have this mix of content (to which I would also add podcasts and videos, live events, Q&As, and articles of different lengths). I am not sure that what we do is especially unique, but I do think we do a very good job! We are always striving for excellence.

For one thing, some topics lend themselves well to one format, while others lend themselves better to another. Not every reader wants to commit to a 3,000-word story — some want to consume shorter takes.

And some topics are very visual, warranting a slide show of beautiful images, but others are not.

Some stories have complicated concepts that are really enhanced by an infographic. Some readers may be more visual and so including the information in a graphic may help provide a key takeaway — or allow us to highlight a specific set of notable data. We are great fans of infographics and always ask ourselves what they might add to any story we are working on.

Comics are extremely fun! They’re a surprising amount of work, but we love the results, as well as the collaborative process between artist, writer and editor as we pull them together.

VK: Rosie, are your contributors limited to experienced writers from America? If not, could you please give three tips to new writers that would prepare them to write for Knowable?

RM:  We work with experienced writers from a variety of countries and living outside of the United States shouldn’t stop people from pitching. Although most of our contributors do live in the USA, we have also worked with writers from Canada, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, India, Nepal and more. We currently have commissions in process with writers in Colombia, Argentina and Costa Rica, as well as a US writer who now lives in Chile. In addition, we are soon to be launching a Spanish version of Knowable. We invite good writers to approach us if they have an idea for a good story.

TIP ONE: Do your homework. Please take a close look at our website to get a sense of the kinds of stories that we do and the level that we pitch them at. Make sure that you aren’t pitching a story that we have already done! If you know a writer who has already worked with us, you might find it useful to talk with them about their experience.

Know that we do not cover news, and that when working with a writer for the first time we usually assign a short article (say, 800-1400 words) or a Q&A with an interesting researcher who has authored an Annual Reviews journal article at some point. Also know that we are interested in getting into the science—not just what people know, but how they came to know it — while not leaving the more casual but curious reader behind.

We edit carefully, and all our stories are fact checked, so be prepared to put together fact-checking materials after the editing is complete.

TIP TWO: Send us a solid, well-written pitch on something original and focused — please don’t send us a pitch for a news story about the latest research in one of the major journals. And please provide a bit of information about yourself and links to clips of other great work you have done.

TIP THREE: If you send us a pitch, please put “pitch” in the subject line and you can expect a reply within a couple of weeks after we have had a pitch meeting. We are a small team. Please feel free to follow up if you have not heard from us within a week or two.

VK: What if a writer doesn’t have byline in a science magazine?

RM: No need to have a byline in a science magazine specifically. But the writer should have published clips that demonstrate solid writing and reporting, and an analytical mind. It also helps if you have unique access to a location or story that we really want. I highly recommend The Open Notebook as a resource for those who want to get into science journalism.

VK: Thank you very much, Rosie. Loved having you with us. Some readers of FWW would definitely want to write for you and they belong to diverse cultures and zones!



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