Hi, I'm Katherine Foley and I cover health and science for Quartz -- ask me anything!

Katherine Ellen Foley
Oct 25, 2017

I'm a health and science reporter for Quartz (qz.com). We're the guide to the new global economy, and most of my coverage focuses on developments in medical science, global health trends, and deeper dives that can help readers make decisions about their own health. I spend my days talking to scientists and physicians about their work, and occasionally go to hospitals or research facilties to learn about new technological and medical practices first hand. 

Ask me anything about about journalism, health, and science! Or long-distance running and medical history, two of my favorite side interests. 

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Hello! Your writing evinces such delight in the strange ways the body and the natural world work. Have you always been fascinated with this, and if so when did you think it might be something you'd explore in your professional life?

Oct 25, 6:10PM EDT0

Thanks Corinne! 

My parents are both chemists, and they were (and are) incredibly patient with me as a kid. They answered every question I had about the world around me, and if they couldn't, they'd find me a book that could. We also didn't have cable growing up, and I ended up watcihng a lot of Bill Nye the Science Guy when I wasn't reading or outside. Curiousity became a form of comfort for me. There was always something cool to be uncovered, if I just kept looking.  

When I started graduate school, I thought I'd be an environmental reporter. In my first semester, I had a class where each of us had to pick one beat we didn't know anything about—I chose health. It was a really great opportunity to take all the enthusism I had found for nature and chemistry and apply it to physiology and medicine. I fell completley in love with it.

It just seems to me like the whole world, including ourselves, is wonderfully complex. Of course, there are really serious stories in any scientific dicipline to be told, too—but almost all of them start with really fascinating science, if you distill it down enough. 

Oct 25, 10:27PM EDT1

Is aloe vera good for our health?

Oct 25, 6:13AM EDT0

Hi Ayushi --I'm not sure! I'm not an expert in this realm, and I'd say it probably depends on which aspect of health you're thinking of. I usually apply aloe to sunburns, but I can't say I'm that familiar with the science of the matter. This could be good fodder for a story later, though!

Oct 25, 5:10PM EDT0

What is the most unusual case you've come across in medical history?

Oct 24, 7:12AM EDT0

Definitely the story of Tarrare, who lived in France in the 18th century. He was something of a medical marvel because he ate so much—both food and, er, non-food items. You can read more about him here.

Oct 25, 5:11PM EDT1

What do you do in your spare time?

Oct 21, 9:25PM EDT0

I’m an avid long distance runner. I enjoy training and running for marathons, and I ran my first 50k earlier this year. I like to run on my own, and recently started attending workouts with the November Project, which has groups that meet regularly all over the US. I also am a big fan of the Smithsonian National Zoo—not only do they have a fantastic group of animals, but it’s entirely open and free, so it’s easy to run through.

I also really like live shows, music or otherwise. DC has a fairly good performance scene, and I’ve been making more of a point to go to shows recently. This weekend I saw Too Many Zooz, which was fantastic.

Other than that, the usual! Spending time with friends, keeping up with family, etc.

I do also enjoy very bad reality TV. I no longer watch The Bachelor franchise, but I do enjoy MTV’s ‘Are You The One?’

Oct 25, 5:11PM EDT0

Have you got a Facebook page I could like?

Oct 21, 5:28PM EDT0

I don’t, but Quartz has many! My stories may appear on these pages as well:

Quartz:  https://www.facebook.com/quartznews/

QZ: https://www.facebook.com/qznews/

Quartzy: https://www.facebook.com/QZY/

Quartz also has a community for it's new edition, Quartz at Work: www.facebook.com/groups/quartzatwork/ 

I have a weekly newsletter you can subscribe too: tinyletter.com/scrapfacts.

This features some of my favorite facts from the week that I learned through reporting or out and about.

And you can follow me on twitter: @katherineefoley

Oct 25, 5:13PM EDT0

Would you say it's harder for a woman to be a Journalist?

Oct 21, 12:30PM EDT0

I think there are aspects of life that may make it harder to be a woman in general. Sexism happens everywhere and in any field, including science writing. 

I asked this question to some of my female colleagues, and many of them had their own stories—not necessarily at the workplace, but with sources and readers. For one thing, there's a difference in the types of feedback women tend to get from readers: One colleague mentioned that if a story a woman wrote is provocative, readers who were women tend to respond with emails that were critiquing points in the story. Feedback from men, however, often includes comments about the reporter's age or character, often saying she was not competent to write. 

Additionally, some women expressed that there have been times when sources took them less seriously because of their gender, or that they had to tolerate unprofessional comments during interviews rather than pushing back because they did not want to damage the relationship with the source. 

Sometimes, being less intimidating to sources may make them open up more—but it also comes with more risks. Kim Wall, a freelance journalist, was tragically murdered while on assignment this year.

Oct 25, 5:14PM EDT0

How long were you in school for?

Oct 21, 10:46AM EDT0

After four years in undergrad at Georgetown University, I received my master’s from New York University for Science Health and Environmental Reporting. It was a 16 month program, and I graduated Dec. 2015.

Oct 25, 5:15PM EDT0

Whose email or calls would you be most likely to respond to because you know they’ll bring you good stuff?

Oct 21, 12:33AM EDT0

I read every pitch that comes into my inbox (I typically don’t take pitches over the phone). There are some institutions and people who’s work I’m familiar with, but typically scientists aren’t reaching out to me. Instead, it’s their press office.

It really doesn’t matter to me who I’m receiving an email from, though—if the work is interesting and good fodder for a Quartz story, I’ll follow up.

Oct 25, 5:15PM EDT0

What do you see as the hot button stories or areas of coverage that your readership is deeply interested in over the next six months?

Oct 20, 3:07PM EDT0

In my experience, readers are most curious about working with stories that hit at the intersection of disciplines like health, technology, and science. I’m especially interested in bringing readers story about global health trends, epidemiology, and new developments in medicine and health technology.

We at Quartz are also interested in the global environment, including energy, carbon capture, environmental exposures, artificial intelligence and health technology, and the intersection of climate change and geopolitics. For example, my colleague Akshat Rathi recently won a grant to report on global carbon capture techniques all over the world. Additionally, Zoë Schlanger and Elijah Wolfson on our team recently were awarded a grant to do reporting in the Rio Grande Valley, a quickly-warming region of the US with diminishing water resources. They'll be working with local publications on the US and Mexican side of the border.  

Oct 25, 5:25PM EDT1

Where are you from?

Oct 20, 12:53PM EDT0

Wilmington, Delaware

Oct 25, 5:16PM EDT0

What are your thoughts on the future of newspapers and the rise of digital journalism?

Oct 20, 7:57AM EDT0

I think that digital journalism is a challenge for print journalism, but that the former doesn’t have to kill the latter, per say. Years ago, I was at a talk given by Katharine Weymouth, who used to be the Washington Post’s publisher before Bezos came in. She answered this same question and said that she felt that while the internet was harmful for some circulation, it also meant that readers in Los Angeles could be reading the news from her publication instead.

I think this is still true—journalism is always changing, and I think that a lot of great newspapers have been able to adapt to have more of a web presence. That said, some people still really love holding a hard copy of the news—whether it be a magazine or newspaper—in their hands, and I think that the layout design for those has improved over time as well.

Quartz has always been digitally native, and our development team is always working on ways to make our site the most aesthetically pleasing and reader-friendly. At the end of the day, readers want convenient, high quality news. As journalists, we have a responsibility to meet readers where they are. If we can do that best online, great. Print, though, certainly isn’t dead. In fact, I was part of a team of many writers and editors who contributed to Quartz' first book, which is called The Objects that Power the Global Economy

Oct 25, 5:27PM EDT1

Who is your favourite reporter of all time and why?

Oct 20, 7:35AM EDT0

I don’t think I could say I have a single favorite reporter. There is simply so much talent in this field.

Focusing on science writing alone, some of my favorite writers that I look up to include Ed Yong, Julie Beck, Olga Khazan, Robin Marantz Henig, Carl Zimmer, Maryn McKenna, Nadia Drake, Steve Hall, Denise Grady, Christie Wilcox, Rose Eveleth, and Roxanne Khamsi. This is an extremely abbreviated list—the science writing community is fairly tight-knit and full of so many great minds, if I sat down and listed all of them we’d be here all day.

Even if I didn’t work at Quartz, I would tell everyone to read Akshat Rathi, Zoë Schlanger, Elijah Wolfson, Ephrat Livini, Corinne Purtill, Chase Purdy, and W. Harry Fortuna—I am truly proud of the coverage we produce on the science and health team.

The most influential science writer for me, however, is Mary Roach. She writes fantastically curious books about one aspect of human physiology and all the science happening around that area. She’s actually signed my copy of Gulp which is all about the digestive tract. I love that her work is deeply thorough and fascinating, but also light-hearted and funny—she manages to capture the incredible prowess of science while making it relatable to everyone by digging a little more into the scientists themselves. 

Oct 25, 5:30PM EDT1

What sorts of items, gossip and otherwise, make useful snippets or fillers for you?

Oct 20, 4:18AM EDT0

I’m always on the hunt for stories. During the day, I usually check Twitter for the latest trending stories. I also love email newsletters, and usually open STAT’s Morning Rounds, the MIT Technology newsletter, Science Magazine’s daily newsletter, Axios Vitals, and the Morning Mix from the Washington Post. I usually check NPR, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, the Atlantic, the Verge, Vox, Inverse, and the New York Times for science coverage to keep abreast with current news. I subscribe to email list serves for embargoed stories, too, so I can look a papers that are set to come out later in the week.

I also listen to podcasts—mostly for fun, but I end up learning through them usually. Sawbones, which covers medical history, is definitely one of my favorites. Reply All from Gimlet media sometimes covers topics that are tangentially related to health and medicine, which has also given me fodder or sources for future stories. I also usually listen to This American Life and a show called Wonderful! Which can sometimes have science tidbits thrown in there.

I wouldn’t say I’m on reporting duty all the time, but I am an inherently curious person, and sometimes the things I learn as I go about my life end up turning into stories. DC is a hotbed of knowledge in general. We have fantastic museums, libraries, universities, hospitals, where people are more than happy to talk about their work for a curious visitor. I sometimes gain inspiration from talking to others at my running club, new people I meet at parties, or colleagues who work on completely different teams at work.

I also have been reading a lot of scientist’s memoirs, and I learn tons through them—my two most recent favorites are Venomous by Christie Wilcox and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Oct 25, 5:30PM EDT0

Is there any subject you refuse to cover?

Oct 19, 3:48PM EDT0

I won’t cover any scientific papers that don’t stand up to scrutiny. This usually means that I find that the methodology is flawed or biased in some way. I also refuse to give attention to disproven ideas, like science that argues against anthropogenic climate change or argues that vacciens cause autism. 

Oct 25, 5:31PM EDT1

Do you think that there is any information that is “too dangerous” to print? Why or why not?

Oct 19, 2:19PM EDT0

I’m lucky to work at a place like Quartz, where we’re open and encouraged to write stories that may be provocative or ruffle some feathers. However, we’re committed to only writing these stories when we have the data and reporting to back them up, which is a decision carefully made by both reporters and editors. We're also supported by our company's in-house lawyers in our reporting.

We might not print information that may be actually dangerous to others, like instructions on how to build a bomb, or an incitement to violence—but ultimately that decision will be made by our editors based who will weigh competing factors that would include the relevance to the story.

Oct 25, 5:32PM EDT0

What experiences, professional or personal, have best prepared you for journalism?

Oct 19, 1:30PM EDT0

I’ve spent a lot of time in various newsrooms. When I was in both high school and college, I worked on student newspapers on the opinion teams, which I wouldn’t say taught me a lot about being a reporter necessarily, but it did teach me that I had found a field that I really loved.

I went to graduate school at New York University for Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting, which really taught me the nitty-gritty of science communication for a lay audience. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be the reporter I am without that experience—it was a time for me to learn about the writing and editing process, how to take feedback, and the general layout of the field. I wouldn’t say that graduate school is a requirement for a being a journalist—I have tons of colleagues who didn’t study journalism and are excellent reporters—but in my case it was hugely beneficial.

The other job where I learned a lot for reporting was being a resident assistant in college, believe it or not. I learned loads about best practices in communication, which I use all the time during interviews, performance reviews, and even weekly meetings with my editor and team.

Oct 25, 5:34PM EDT0

Do you cover alternative medicine?

Oct 19, 12:41PM EDT0

If there is quality, peer-reviewed science that suggests that it works and why, then yes. If not, I pass—unless I’m seeing a lot of major misconceptions floating around, in which case we may decide it merits a debunking story.

Oct 25, 5:34PM EDT0

How do you know if your writing is good enough or appealing enough to outside audiences?

Oct 19, 8:58AM EDT0

In general, I’m a pretty enthusiastic person about everything, and usually I can find at least one thing in my surroundings that I’m curious about. It’s a great everyday superpower, because it means I’m almost never bored. But it also means that I tend to care about topics that are a little more niche.

Luckily, I have an editor! I pitch him all of my stories before I start working on them (although I may have done some reporting to make sure they’ll actually work), and he can either help me improve my pitches or tell me that he thinks we should wait for another detail or development to make them more appealing to our readers.

Even before I start thinking of pitches for my editor, I often informally chat with other reporters on the QZ team or elsewhere who are on a different beat—like politics or finance—and ask them if they think that a certain topic is interesting. If they do, that probably means there’s something there—and if not, it tells me that maybe a particular topic isn’t a Quartz story just yet (it may be too technical, for example). I also do the same with friends, who I can trust to give me honest feedback as news consumers.

Once a story is written, I look at the ways that readers engaged with it. Sometimes, this will come in the form o traffic, but other times it’ll be through email feedback, or even Twitter conversations about the work. I value all kinds of reader engagement.

Oct 25, 5:36PM EDT0

Of all of the social media platforms, which is the best way to convey the news and why?

Oct 19, 2:44AM EDT0

I think the answer to this question really comes down to the user herself. I personally get most of my news from Twitter, which is also where I share most of my stories and engage with sources and readers. I keep my Facebook private.

That said, I think Facebook is a great place to get news too—Facebook shows me more what my circles are talking about, which often contributes to the larger conversation of the news cycle as well. Snapchat has also done some really cool stuff with news sharing. My colleague Mike Murphy, a tech reporter at Quartz, has written about how Snapchat does wonders for reporters who are remote, but need access to on-the-ground information at the scene of breaking news: https://qz.com/1093300/

I think ultimately, the best tool to share news is the one that you enjoy using the most!

Oct 25, 5:38PM EDT0

Describe how you handle deadlines, stress, and competing deadlines?

Oct 18, 10:32PM EDT0

If I’m completely honest, I’m almost always stressed about one aspect of work or another. But I think it’s a good thing—it means that my job is challenging and engaging, and that I care about it. I try to think of stress and pressure as an opportunity to do good work, and prove to myself that I’m a smart reporter capable of finding and telling excellent stories within the medical realm. There’s always another story in the pipeline—it’s exciting to know that I have an infinite number of opportunities ahead of me to grow as a writer and produce stories that our readers learn from and enjoy.

I manage my projects through a lot of calendars and to-do lists. At the start of every week, usually on Sunday evening, I make a to-do list for my week and color code it by break it up into personal responsibilities, professional ones, and social engagements.

My work to-do list I tend to break down by the day, and I determine when I can work on each item based on what the deadline is. Then, at the start of each day, I take a look at my weekly agenda and pick out what tasks I know I need to get done, and which parts of larger projects I want to try to get done.

I also try to schedule in at least one or two things on my daily to-do list for myself. I always write down when I’m going to get in a strength training workout or run or dinner with a friend, so I remember to take care of myself so that I can bring 110% to my job, as well.

It’s not a perfect system, and often news comes up that I wasn’t planning on covering. But this just keeps me on my toes for the better.

Oct 25, 5:38PM EDT0
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