Flipping science in the Philippines

Here's a podcast guest who awed me so much that I lost my words at one point. He also left me no excuses for slacking. Advice and inspiration from Mikael Angelo Francisco who runs science portal Flipscience with Hana Abello.

Guests

Mikael Angelo Francisco –  Filipino freelance science journalist and copywriter,  Nut-scientist-in-chief of Flipscience

Show was recorded 20 April 2021.

  1. Flipscience. A science website focused on the Philippines
  2. Ask Theory. Flipscience‘s podcast featuring Filipino scientists.
  3. #HowHardDidHumansHitYou. The one move on Facebook that Mikael credits for winning thousands of new followers for Flipscience.
  1. Pursue your passion!
  2. If you are a science journalist, start writing.
  • 02:43 A gap to fill in science communication
  • 06:29 Story behind the name
  • 09:22 Nurturing new writers
  • 12:08 Social media is key
  • 13:09 They will flock to you
  • 13:50 No money to do this full-time
  • 14:34 We pay our writers
  • 15:46 100,000 views per month
  • 16:51 #HowHardDidHumansHitYou
  • 19:06 “So what?”
  • 19:32 Journalist or communicator?
  • 21:27 Too many scientists to highlight
  • 23:41 Why just one Flipscience?
  • 24:33 Inspiring new science communicators
  • 26:06 How to make Flipscience strong (stronger)
  • 29:18 Advice for science writers

Show notes

[Please write your questions in the comment section or email to monsoonpodcast@gmail.com – we can address them in future episodes.]

Filipino freelance science journalist Mikael Angelo Franciso has been writing about science for eight years. But he has never done it full-time.

Even in 2013, when he applied for a writing “gig” at a major publication in the Philippines, he had wanted to write about games. The editor accepted Mikael with the condition that he also writes about science. Mikael – who has always liked science and science-fiction – took the offer.

Over time he wrote more science articles than gaming stories. Science writing got him.

In 2017, his partner – now wife – Hana Abello pointed out that Mikael rarely wrote about science in the Philippines. He realised that too. There wasn’t a news platform dedicated to science in the Philippines. They saw  a gap to fill.

Without any high expectations, Mikael and Hana created Flipscience. The name came about because they wanted to “flip science on its head, to transform people’s perception of science, flip the perception as boring and hard to understand,” Mikael tells me.

“We want to show that science is part of life. All you need is to take some time to read and you will understand and appreciate science.”

Mikael and Hana did all that and more.

Four years later today, the website attracts 80,000-100,000 views per month. Revenue-wise, Flipscience makes enough to pay for its hosting, but not much more. Mikael and Hana do not put advertisement post on the site; they only accept sponsored content that’s not advertorial.

In other words, they are pouring their money and time into their passion.

Early this year, they launched a new podcast called Ask Theory. It has 18 episodes to date (much more productive than Monsoon!). Every episode features
Filipino scientists and the topics range from black holes to mental
health to spiders.

Flipscience “has connected us to a lot of Filipino science enthusiasts and scientists who are one with us in our mission of promoting science in the Philippines,” says Mikael.

“That in itself is worth the four years and hopefully more of effort we put into the website.”

Mikael works with a moving roster of writers, including college students or people who wish to start a portfolio of published stories. He’s invested in nurturing new science communicators in the Philippines.

They pay their writers.

Flipscience now has about 1000 articles. Mikael wrote about 700 of them, and that’s excluding the many social media posts he creates to engage with the public.

I have little patience and will to sustain social media posting. But Mikael does, and it rewarded him. He credits a wildly successful social media post (#HowHardDidAgingHitYou) in early 2019 that won Flipscience thousands of new followers in a week.

I asked Mikael how can the public help Flipscience. Funding would be helpful. Then he implores people to just consume more science content (“not just Flipscience”) and to fight fake news.
 

And of course, I wrangle more advice out of Mikael for science journalists in Southeast Asia. Listen to Mikael’s eloquent elaboration at the 29:18 mark.

Here’s a list for you to keep:

  1. Don’t do this for the money
  2. Find a reputable and credible news organisation that you can work with; start pitching more science articles to editors
  3. Have enough capital to bear you through the loss-making stage
  4. Have tempered expectations, else you set yourself up for disappointment
  5. Form a team of writers to create quality content consistently
  6. Hone your fact-checking skills
  7. Write to make your audience smarter, not to make yourself look smarter

Acknowledgement

Intro clip music was arranged by Yap Sheau Jia. Outro clip music “Sunday Plans” by Silent Partner. Episode cover photos from Mikael Angelo Francisco.

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