A Day in the Life of Dan Vergano


Dan Vergano USAT

What I’m working on:

I’m digging through my notes and ideas from folks at the AAS Division of Planetary Science meeting I attended last week in Tucson, reading through abstracts for the Society for Neuroscience meeting going on this week in DC, and girding my loins for the AGU meeting in San Francisco in a few weeks. And I’m trying to finish two short features, on dinosaurs and a Maya temple, before I take off for that meeting.

Plus I’m teaching a course on the history and ethics of journalism at New York University’s DC campus, which is actually (don’t tell nobody) fun. We argue about Watergate and Peter Zenger. I’m learning Objective-C thanks to NYU’s online course offerings too. The last books I read on airplane flights were Carlota Gall’s The Wrong War and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The book I’m really enjoying, though, is Mark Twain’s Roughing It, which I’m reading anecdote by anecdote on my cellphone reader on subway rides home. I had never read it and it is a hoot.

Where I work:

Where I work there is a Spinosaurus in the courtyard and a battalion of Mars rovers in the lobby. Really. I’m on the fourth floor of National Geographic‘s M St. building, near 17th and M St. in downtown D.C. It’s between DuPont Circle and the White House—basically, a tremendous location for reporting.

I am sitting at a brand new cubicle in a brand new newsroom. It has that fresh-out-of-the-box new-newsroom smell. My laptop screen is set to Tweetdeck and this note. My main screen is on a story I’m editing. I don’t have any phone messages blinking red on the phone. Life is good.

Daily routine:

Spinosaurus lurking. Dan Vergano

I wake up tardily, take a shower and help get the kids ready for school, and then drive to the subway or hop a ride with a neighbor who needs a “slug” to get on the HOV lanes into D.C. A godawful half-hour to hour later spent emailing on my cellphone I’m at Nat Geo. There is no typical day here, aside from the editors meeting around 9:30 to talk daily news. Sometimes I get an assignment out of that, and sometimes I work my own stories. There are a lot of meetings involving different subject areas, science, archaeology, and society grant-related stuff.

I usually load up Tweetdeck with a few tweets for later in the day. Usually they are links to abstracts of interesting studies that I will never have time to report but I hope somebody out there will see and take an interest in, or at least find amusing. Basically I look for news, assign stories, edit them, report news and write it the rest of the day, on an as-needed basis. I read a lot of email and talk to a lot of people all day long, interspersed with typing and trips to the coffee pot. Sometimes I write a short story, sometimes a long one. It all depends, and that is what I like about the work. Also, Laura Parker, who sits next to me, and I bicker all day long over the mindless story of the day on the newsroom TV sets. Good times.

At Nat Geo, I usually wrap up the day by 6:30 on nights I don’t teach. The hours were worse when I worked at a newspaper.

After the kids go to bed, I usually spend an hour or so checking email, grading papers, or fixing a lede.

I don’t watch TV or movies, except for football games. I basically can’t stand the idiot box. I read fast and TV is too slow: It grates on my nerves.

Most productive part of my day:

11:00 a.m. to noon EDT. By then I have enough reporting (and caffeine) in me to usually knock out a daily news story or key grafs of whatever feature I’m writing.

Most essential ritual or habit: 

I’m addicted to coffee. It’s a vice. But there are worse ones.

I go to the gym at least once a week. I think that is probably the only thing that keeps me half-sane. We have a cheap membership to a ratty gym thanks to buying in like 20 years ago. When I get old I will switch to one with a pool, I suspect.

Mobile device:

iPhone 5s


MacBook Pro. At home I have a refurbished Dell laptop.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

The telephone


MS Outlook (G-d help me, it has my contacts list held hostage)

Google Drive / Scholar

Excel (for simple stats)

Xcode (actually I just play with this for laughs)

R (for less simple stats)

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Tweetdeck. Also I read economic blogs late at night sometimes out of a weird fascination tied to my public-policy background and the economic blerrgh we are all living through.

My reading habits:

I usually alternate fiction with nonfiction books—Gall, then Chabon, for example. My wife, Andrea Pitzer, started up Nieman Storyboard, so she is all wired in to the magazine-writing world, and she will clue me in to good work from those folks. I read while the kids do their homework.

I usually print out a study or two to read too, most days. I’m a big fan of review articles. They are probably where I steal half of my ideas.

I don’t read many science blogs regularly (aside from Phenomena and LWON, natch, which I read religiously). Mostly I look for the odd insightful piece by someone I respect. Retraction Watch is a treasure. I wrote a science blog for a long time and pretty much a badly written one causes me physical pain to read at this point. I’m reminded of all the mistakes I made when I was doing the same thing.

Sleep schedule:

I get about seven hours a night on a good night. I could use more. But it is heaven compared to when the kids were infants.

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