Telum Talks To… Dr Juliana Chan, CEO & Publisher, Wildtype Media Group

Telum Talks To… Dr Juliana Chan, CEO & Publisher, Wildtype Media Group

Can you tell us what sparked your interest to switch your career from academia to publishing?
I had always planned on being an academic ‘lifer’ - I had been an Assistant Professor at a local medical school since 2013. I was also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Scientist Magazine, which was helmed by our then-Managing Editor Dr Rebecca Tan. We did very well for many years in this model.

However, in early 2018, I felt a strong calling to pursue science communication on a full-time basis. There are many incredible scientists in Asia, but many of them are not visible internationally due to a lack of media coverage, language barriers and the absence of media training. In both the US and the UK, where I had lived for nearly a decade, scientists communicate directly with the public on Twitter and feel comfortable being interviewed live or giving media sound bites.

After closing my research lab and reassigning my staff and PhD students, I launched a rebranding exercise where we renamed our company Wildtype Media Group. For the past two years, we have undergone a steady expansion into social media, video, print, custom publishing and events.

Rebecca is now Editor-in-Chief, running our editorial division, and I am now CEO & Publisher, running our business division. We have built an amazing team together and I am delighted by how quickly we were able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do you think is the role of publications like Asian Scientist Magazine during critical periods like the current COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on science and how important it is for scientists to find a vaccine or treatment against the coronavirus.

At Asian Scientist Magazine, our job is to put out accurate and reliable information that can be trusted by our readers. Since February, COVID-19-related articles have boosted traffic on our site by forty percent. One article even garnered half a million views very quickly, which nearly broke our server.

We have started an editorial series called #StopCovidiots to share bite-sized facts about COVID-19, and a video series for kids called #AskAnExpert where kids ask questions about the virus to experts, including a bat scientist and a futurist.

There is so much information and angles to cover about the pandemic, how do you strike a balance and cover other aspects of the science field in Asia?
Our coverage right now still includes a fair number of non-COVID-19 articles. As a case in point, we just published an article last week on the first parasite to be discovered on the fossil record from the Cambrian era.

However, universities and research institutions across Asia have pivoted their research units to focus on COVID-19 research, and it is our job to assist them by giving their researchers the exposure they need.
           
You have been running many video webinars and social media videos during COVID-19, what are your key takeaways?
We had a blast with our nine-part Wildtype Media Expert Opinion webinar series, beginning with the academic Co-Founder of US vaccine maker Moderna, Professor Bob Langer, and ending with Nobel laureate and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian Schmidt.

In other episodes, we featured three frontline doctors from Singapore’s National Center for Infectious Diseases; a pandemic expert who led Hong Kong’s response to SARS; a mental health advocate; and the Co-Founder of Wikipedia.

It was amazing how well-received our webinars were - one was attended by more than 2,000 live attendees and later watched by thousands more. It was a steep learning curve for my production team but we conducted our first live webinar with just six days of preparation. We had a terrific nine-week run and we will be back in the fall with more episodes.

What advice would you offer to young and aspiring journalists in the STEM / science journalism field?
A big challenge for us is in finding excellent science journalists. Scientists aren’t trained to write editorially and in a jargon-free manner, while journalists aren’t trained on the fundamentals of CRISPR and quantum physics. Finding that unique individual who can tackle both ends of the spectrum has always been difficult for us.

For professional journalists who aspire to science journalism, I would advise that they take free online classes from Coursera and watch lectures on YouTube. I would also suggest that they consume plenty of good science articles online.

It has become necessary for journalists to have a social media presence, and so I would recommend at least a basic profile on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. For journalists without a portfolio, I would recommend that they start blogging on LinkedIn, Medium or Substack, like how I started in 2012 with www.asianscientist.com. Not only does starting a weekly newsletter or editorial calendar help to strengthen their portfolio, it is also a strong indicator that they are proactive and creative.

By the way, I’m hiring science writers and editors. Please feel free to write to me at editor@asianscientist.com if you are interested to join our team!

If you could invent a cure to an existing disease or condition, what would it be?
Without a doubt, it would be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease, and better known by the public by the viral ‘ice bucket challenge’ which raised more than US$200 million for research into the disease. There is currently no effective treatment for ALS and it is severely under-funded compared to other neurological diseases.

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