The logo of ZME Science.
Logo courtesy of ZME Science.

Table of Contents

| Starting out

What made you become a content creator?

Tibi Puiu, Co-Founder of ZME Science: ZME Science was launched in 2007 as a popular science blog where I and co-founder Andrei Mihai would post about recent research we thought was super interesting. Back then, we were still in our senior year in high school and we had no idea we would do this for a living almost 15 years later. But the two of us knew that we wanted to be part of the internet and new media industry, at least in some capacity. When we started out, the very first iPhone was barely out, and Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were novel and relatively small but spreading like wildfire. This early phase of Web 2.0 was filled with exciting times, and we knew this was the future and we had to be part of it. Today, ZME Science has morphed into a professional media outlet with over a million unique monthly readers, whose coverage is regularly picked up by international publishers across the world. 

What are some of the challenges you face as a content creator?

Tibi: It’s no secret that the publishing industry isn’t in a great place at the moment. Some of the challenges our organization faces are shared by virtually all other publishers struggling to make in this space, including generating enough revenue from digital advertising to make a profit and expand operations, adjusting to a changing media landscape where new disruptive internet technologies and consumer behavior are evolving at a rapid rate, producing quality content with limited resources, or simply gaining people’s attention and trust. 

Other challenges are unique to science journalism. To laypeople, science looks like it's evolving rapidly and delivers definite answers to complicated problems, when in fact science proceeds slowly and cautiously. Science papers published by researchers are conservative and very skeptical toward new findings, whereas the public wants exciting new stories. It is up to science journalists to bridge this gap and produce content that does not distort or sensationalize the findings of new research, while at the same time doing so in an engaging and relatable fashion as to draw in the readers from the general public. Unfortunately, much science reporting we see today employs misleading headlines and fails to contextualize studies, often overstating the significance of a new study or succumbing to hyperbole in order to gain more clicks. This is very concerning because, in time, this kind of reporting erodes public trust in science and antagonizes researchers. The still ongoing pandemic is a prime example of why the public needs reliable, unbiased, and factual science journalism.

What are some digital publications that you follow?

Tibi: There are quite a few outlets that we highly respect and praise for their science reporting. We actually just published a list of some of the best science websites we believe anyone should be following in 2022. These include National Geographic, Wired, Live Science, Gizmodo, and the science sections of The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, NPR, and The Washington Post. 

| Why syndication?

Why did you decide to syndicate your content with Newstex?

Tibi: Content syndication is a great channel that allows our content to reach new audiences, generate additional brand exposure and publicity, backlinks, and the ability to grow our organic traffic. In some cases, it can also be an additional source of passive revenue. We chose Newstex as a distribution partner because of your unique roster of corporate and academic clients. 

What do you think are the benefits of syndicating your content through Newstex?

Tibi: Reaching a wider audience, as well as generating passive revenue we would otherwise not be able to do on our own. 

| Highs and lows

What do you like most about creating digital content?

Tibi: Science journalism is challenging but very rewarding work. It’s great that we get to cover new developments from a wide range of fields, from climate to space to the pandemic, so boredom is never on my list of worries. It’s always fantastic and inspiring when we’re messaged by readers who appreciate our content and encourage us to carry on. 

What do you dislike most about creating digital content?

Tibi: Modern digital content is now meant to be consumed very fast, and this introduces all sorts of problems. While we’re seeing some great and creative uses of new content delivery channels, like short TikTok videos and Instagram stories, you can only do so much. I’m afraid factual reporting and in-depth critical thinking are often secondary to raising engagement and chasing likes in the current media landscape. 

| Tips for success

What inspires you to keep writing?

Tibi: Each of our staff has developed professionally tremendously throughout the years. There is still much to learn, and this is inspiring in itself. Science is never boring, and if you have a good eye, you can always find a great story to cover. But reader support, through the emails and social media comments we receive daily, is probably our greatest motivator. 

What are the top 3 tips you can give to others wanting to develop successful digital publications?

Tibi:

1. Don’t compromise on quality. It’s tempting to chase likes and just copy whatever is popular at the moment and trending on social media. But that’s a bad idea since there’s nothing to differentiate yourself from the run-of-the-mill content. 

2. Always pay attention to your operations. Producing great content is time-consuming and expensive. A lot of great publishers have shuttered their operations because their business model proved unsustainable. You need to squeeze your resources to the absolute limit and always be ready to adapt to the media landscape in order to generate enough revenue and stay afloat. 

3. Build a tribe. Rather than chasing poor quality clicks that don’t convert into subscribers, it’s wiser to play the long game and entice new readers to become loyal readers. You can do a lot more with 1,000 dedicated fans than 1,000,000 unengaged clicks that just skim your content and leave never to return. 

Where do you see ZME Science in 5 years?

Tibi: Our ambition is to at least double our traffic and become a globally recognized brand in our niche. We also see ourselves building a large core, loyal audience by growing our email list and social media channels. In the next five years, ZME Science will probably have a much better presence in terms of video content and also include premium content. Regarding the latter point, we currently don’t have paid memberships, but that will likely change in the future. This, of course, will have to involve hiring new talented people in order to produce the kind of valuable content people are willing to pay for. 

How many writers do you have? How do you find them?

Tibi: We currently have five permanent staff writers and copy editors, but we also employ at least half a dozen contributors who publish on a weekly basis with us. ZME Science also regularly hosts content from freelance journalists and industry experts. Members of our staff operate from the United States, UK, Argentina, Romania, Brazil, Jamaica, India, and the Philippines, so it’s truly a global enterprise. We’ve sourced our staff using a variety of channels, including posting openings on dedicated job boards and live networking at industry conferences. We’ve also worked well with staff members, past and present, who’ve reached out to us first and later proved a good fit after an interview. 

ZME Science was established in 2007. Their mission is to bridge the gap between the latest research and the general public by presenting studies and developments in science in a relatable language.