‘Entertaining and informative’: Inside Reuters innovations coverage
Six-wheeled wheelchairs, robotic dogs and antibiotic breakthroughs are just a few of the stories covered by innovations at Reuters.
“My favorite ever story was when I filmed an off-road wheelchair in Wales. I remember planning the first shot, we were in a field with long grass and suddenly a guy burst through in a wheelchair,” says Jim Drury, head of innovations at Reuters. “I got splattered in mud but the story was brilliant because it looked fantastic.”
Six-wheeled wheelchairs, robotic dogs and antibiotic breakthroughs are just some of the many compelling technology and science stories covered by innovations at Reuters.
We spoke to Jim, who first came to Reuters in 1996 as a news reporter about his career and what trends to look out for in science and technology news.
What attracted you to innovations?
I just thought this is a really great job. It’s fun, it’s interesting and it’s hard because understanding science and technology is challenging. You tend to be dealing with scientists and academics and inventors.
I’ve got no scientific qualifications at all and I think that actually helps in some ways. I think for us we’re trying to tell a story that the public can get their head around. If you go in without a huge amount of knowledge then you don’t assume any knowledge on part of the viewer.
What’s been your favourite trip so far while working in innovations?
I would have to say when I got to go to Tel Aviv. They’ve got an amazing tech and science scene. There was a really good story where they were using these massive oxygen tanks. People who had a stroke were able to go and sit inside and have oxygen and could recover brain function lost years ago. We were able to use lots of videos of these people before they had the treatment and then interview them afterwards.
I think for us we’re trying to tell a story that the public can get their head around. If you go in without a huge amount of knowledge then you don’t assume any knowledge on part of the viewer.”
The innovations feed has a mixture of hard-news and heart-warming stories. What is the value of this?
We do try very hard to get the mix right to provide a variety of things for the clients. So for instance robot stories are very popular but we wouldn’t run three or four robot stories in the same week because you’re not giving anyone much breathing space. So we try and have a bit of science of climate change, environment renewables, new gadgets.
The problem with some of the science stories is that something that’s very good on paper is very hard to film. But there are some stories that are very important that you need to cover like if someone comes up with something that’s going to be a breakthrough.
The most popular stories are stories that are technology-based and also health stories because everyone can relate.”
What stories are most popular?
The most popular stories are stories that are technology-based and also health stories because everyone can relate. It’s nice to get a story with a personal angle. Recently we had a story using robotic dogs in care homes and that’s the kind of story that does really well, but it takes a lot of time to get access. Also, crowd-funded hi-tech products that can improve everyday life and renewable stories are popular.
What are the main challenges covering innovation news?
The problem with some of the science stories is that something that’s very good on paper is very hard to film. A sequence of someone with a pipette taking fluids and putting them into a petri dish is not visually compelling.
I’ve also noticed when there is a really big breakthrough you won’t hear anymore on that subject for three or four years because science moves in quite slow increments. It’s like when they announced they decoded the human genome, we are still only really at the beginning of that and that’s 18 years ago.
Is there any technology that you’re particularly excited about?
Neuroprosthetics is a big thing, things like making robotic limbs move using your brain. We’re getting a few of those stories coming in.
Quantum computing is another, though very hard to film, I’ve done it a few times and it’s always a challenge. One application of quantum computing is using it to speed up drug discovery and simultaneously analyze thousands of chemical compounds.
And of course artificial intelligence and the idea that AI might take people’s jobs that kind of thing. Depending on who you talk to, AI has the potential to save civilization or destroy it, so it’s a topic we will continue to cover.
What makes Reuters innovation coverage stand out?
We’ve got bureaus in every part of the world and that is a big help because we are able to rely on people in places we might not be able to get to.
We make things entertaining as well as informative. We don’t dumb down but we do make sure you try (particularly for online) to tell a story in one and a half to two minutes that people think that’s great.
We don’t dumb down but we do make sure you try (particularly for online) to tell a story in one and a half to two minutes that people think that’s great.”
What trends do you see for the future of innovations coverage?
More growth online, which is great. I’d expect most of our future growth to come from online clients, and that’s the same probably throughout the industry, as fewer people are getting their news through traditional news channels.
Our stories get a lot of clicks and many spread virally, so they are a great advertisement for our product and I’d expect us to keep growing.
Another big thing is moving to 4K cameras because the quality is so much better. Lastly virtual reality because it’s getting so much better, you used to feel sick when you put on those headsets.
The interview is edited for length and clarity.