Freelancer Adam Bluestein on ‘Grinch Bots,’ ‘Digital Twins’ and the Value of Creative Pitches

Profile of Adam Bluestein

[Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s Inside the Newsroom series, which presents highlights of our regular Ask Me Anything sessions with today’s top tech journalists.]

Freelance science and business writer Adam Bluestein has had a colorful 20-year career in the media world. After starting out in book publishing in the Bay Area, he moved on to a copy editor role at Fortune in New York City, followed by a stint as an editor at lifestyle magazine Real Simple. After moving to Vermont, he kept in touch with a former editor at Real Simple, Jane Berentson, who gave him his first freelance assignments for Inc. That connection pushed him deeper into the business writing world and has shaped his work as a freelancer for the last 16 years. 

Since then, he has pitched and written hundreds of successful stories at top-tier publications like Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Fortune, Men’s Journal and more. He writes about the people at the forefront of innovation and has carved out a niche digging into complex subjects like biotech to find the informative and inspiring nuggets for the average reader. We caught up with him in the final days of 2022 to learn more about his process, his take on what makes a great read, and how PR pitches translate when he’s pitching an editor. 

‘Is This Newsworthy?’—‘To Whom?’ 

It is a question asked in every newsroom and communications firm around the globe, including in Adam’s home office in Burlington, Vt. In addition to stories that are assigned to him, Adam pitches the editors he works with and always looks for “some kind of immediately understandable benefit” for all readers, not just specialists in the biotech world. 

In Adam’s words, a successful business story is forward-looking and has something that is “a little difficult to figure out.” But technical prowess isn’t enough on its own—a story must matter to outsiders as well, and inspire them. “There is a certain level of stakes that I need to show. Even if I think this is really cool, and every lab scientist I know thinks this is amazing, that is not enough [to convince an editor].”

Adam receives up to 30 or 40 pitches a day and tries to get back to the people he knows, and gravitates toward news that is relevant and tailored to his beat. Still, he says, many of these pitches end up in the trash, because they’re not relevant, not personalized, or fail to offer a fresh take on the subject.

 

"Do I want to be the fifth person to report on whatever?” he said. “No, I definitely don't."

Offering an early conversation “where [the business is] ready to talk about [the news], but not everyone knows about it, is definitely the sweet spot.”

<split-lines>"Do I want to be the fifth person to report on [a topic]? No, I definitely don't."<split-lines>

Conversations—Not Sales Pitches—Generate the Best Story Ideas

Adam gets some of his best story ideas from people he has known for a while and keeps in touch with. He loves to catch up with scientists, business people and investors a couple of times a year to talk about what’s hot in their areas of expertise. These conversations aren’t about pitching news or “selling something,” but more so catching up with interesting personalities that he’s met through his reporting.

Over the years, these informal discussions with experts put synthetic biology on his radar as a new area of interest. He began reporting on the topic after attending one of the original IGEM (short for the International Genetically Engineered Machine) competitions at MIT. 

“I went down there and started hanging around with all those people who were working in that discipline at the time, just sort of collecting people who could teach me about it,” he said. 

Continuous learning is still top-of-mind for him as he navigates his reporting, and he keeps tabs on “interesting businesses and research” to develop his story concepts. 

But Sometimes It’s Just Grinch Bots and Digital Twins

Of course, for Adam, it isn’t always about long leads and multi-year relationships. Adam said he has had some unique inspiration for some of his content, including a Fast Company piece on “Grinch Bots” exploring the rise of shopping bots snatching up concert tickets, PlayStation 5s, Nikes, and other desirable goods around the holidays.

He said he was interviewing an executive at a cybersecurity company when he heard the term and immediately thought “it’d be a great title for a story… Editors are going to love this.” Coining a catchy or attention-grabbing term like that, or just injecting new levels of creativity into these conversations, is always important, Adam told us. A similar logic applied to his story on Digital Twins, a practice that allows researchers to augment the participants of a clinical trial with mathematics, which Adam knew would pique readers’ interest.

“So, if there is a good way for a publicist to frame something with a catchy headline, go for it!” he urged.

Interestingly, Adam said he’s also asked various contacts about some of the buzzwords they’re “hearing all the time” and has fed that insight into artificial intelligence tools which can identify trending topics within those subject areas—one example being “protein folding,” he said. It’s helped inspire new angles for his reporting.

<split-lines>"If there is a good way for a publicist to frame something with a catchy headline, go for it!"<split-lines>

‘Science in Action’ Is the Focus for 2023

When it comes to his coverage over the next 12 months, Adam said he’s still looking for the more obscure, wonky, interesting and cutting-edge applications within broad categories like genetics and cancer. 

He is often willing to travel for a piece and finds value in seeing science in action. Adam told us that one of his best reporting experiences was working with the Seattle Times on a series of articles about AI in the Pacific Northwest, because he had the opportunity to learn about what was, at the time, a whole new area (that innovation was speech-to-text and large language models, and of course, predated ChatGPT). 

“If there is a great lab to look at [perfect, because] I always want to do anything that is visual and tactile in-person. Seeing science is great,” Adam said. “A lot of times it is the same old lab, but [I’m a believer that] there are always interesting little things to see in person.”

If you’re hoping to get your company on Adam’s radar this year, focus on putting helpful experts in front of him, keep editor-grabbing headlines in mind, and provide opportunities to “see the science” in action. Good luck!

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