For this installment of “A Typical Workday,” I interviewed independent health care journalist Marcus Banks.
He has been freelancing full time since June 2020 after earning a master’s degree from New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting program and interning at the magazine Spectrum, which covers autism news. His work has run in Medscape, Nature, WebMD, The Scientist, Pharmacy Practice News and other publications.
Before becoming a journalist, Banks spent 14 years as a medical librarian in California.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Recent story you’re proud of
It was something that I published in PNAS news about the body’s brown fat, which can be activated as heat and might actually help people lose weight.
Home base/Office setup
I’m in New York, on the Upper East Side. I’ve been here for five years. The main room of the apartment is the living room/dining room. I work at the dining room table, and I have a great view of the East River. There are bookshelves, but they have books that I read for pleasure. My work stuff is all on my computer. I don’t really consult any print material to do my freelance jobs.
I tend to get up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and, normally, have coffee. We have a little gym in the building, so I’ll go to that or go for a walk, and I really start working in a more structured way, typically, between 8 and 9 a.m.
All of the administrative things, like sending out interview requests and responding to edits, I try to knock out first so that the bulk of the day I can spend writing or doing interviews and research. If I start the writing knowing that I need to send out interview requests, that will sort of weigh on my mind. So I’d rather just get the administrative stuff out [of the way] first.
Unless the weather is really bad, I will always go for a walk of some sort. We live near Carl Schurz Park, which has a river path. If I want a nice but also fast walk, I’ll do that. As I mentioned, I try to go to the building’s gym, but I would give that up before the walk. It’s sort of a reset, and it is exercise even if it’s light. I get refreshed and go back and do whatever I have to do for work.
I try to take little breaks. If I were to stare at the computer for four hours, eventually the sentences would start running on or there would be grammatical errors. Let’s say I have a 2000-word piece due by six o’clock and I’ve only got 500 words written and have to really crank it out. When I get to 800 words, I might stop and get a snack or read something in a book that has nothing to do with work, maybe a chapter or even just a page or two.
Tracking story ideas, assignments and pay
I keep it pretty simple. I use a Google calendar. I don’t use Trello or any productivity-type tools. When it comes to payments, I track them on a spreadsheet. Part of the way to keep it manageable is to try not to take on an overwhelming number of assignments at once, like three features plus six news stories. So, then it is relatively manageable to keep track of, even in your head.
Favorite tool or app
I like the TapeACall phone recording app. Otherwise, I use the standard software, like Google Docs and [Microsoft] Word.
Recording and transcribing interviews
I never really got into transcription software because I always see these funny tweets on Twitter [now X] about all the mistakes that the transcription software made. And generally speaking, my interviews tend to be relatively short. The average could be 15 minutes or so. So I can just listen to the recording and get the quotes I need without transcribing, and it doesn’t feel that laborious to me.
This is probably for younger journalists and newer ones. People go into journalism because they want to break stories or make things better, but it’s okay to have a mixed portfolio. It doesn’t mean you’re selling out. In some cases, the less prestigious things might actually pay better, and then that can fuel the things that you really want to do, like a truly ambitious feature story.