It’s a very exciting time to be a science blogger, with TWO new blogging networks launched in as many days.
Tale of two networks
Most recently, PLoS launched its own network with a stellar line-up of journalists and scientists. Brian Mossop explains the vision behind the network, a “small and nimble” group with an “equal mix of practicing scientists and writing pros”.
And what a group it is: I look forward to Steve Silberman’s return to science blogging; regular stuff from the excellent John Rennie; first-time blogs from pro writers like Emily Anthes and Melinda Wenner Moyer; and a new home for Pulitzer-winner Deborah Blum, David Kroll (he of Abel Pharmboy fame) and the Obesity Panacea boys, Peter Janiszewski & Travis Saunders; and great bloggers like Misha Angrist, Martin Fenner, Daniel Lende & Greg Downey and Sarah Kavassalis. Steve has already set the highest possible bar with his gripping interview with Oliver Sacks.
The day before, the Guardian has a quintet of bloggers including the always excellent Martin Robbins (who, at some point, is bound to swear comically on his now syndicated tweets), along with Jon Butterworth, Evan Harris and GrrlScientist. The fifth blog will host a miscellany of cool stuff, starting with the Guardian’s first science blog festival. It’s already had excellent contributions from Mo of Neurophilosphy and Brian of Laelaps, and I’ll be contributing too next week.
I’m delighted with all of this, and we haven’t even finished yet. Scientopia launched last month, and I know of at least two other networks set to launch in the future. Hell, at this rate, everyone will launch a blog network. I’ll launch one. The drunk guy in the park will have one. Simon Jenkins and James Le Fanu will have one.
This is good. We’re moving towards a more diverse ecosystem and the competition is going to be tough. I mean this in a positive rather than a combative way; reader attention isn’t an infinite resource and people will have to be bringing their A-game. I’m definitely feeling a bit more pressure, but that’s good. Ultimately, I think the presence of lots of smaller networks will allow the best writers to flourish. It will encourage readers to sample a broad range of fine intellectual meals rather than bingeing out at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
This brings me to another reason for joy: a lot of friends and colleagues – people whose work I respect and whose fists I shall bump – are finding good homes in places that will showcase their talents to wider audiences.
By our powers combined…
I particularly liked this quote from Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger expounding a very progressive mentality towards the intersect between bloggers and mainstream media:
“We are edging away from the binary sterility of the debate between mainstream media and new forms which were supposed to replace us. We feel as if we are edging towards a new world in which we bring important things to the table – editing; reporting; areas of expertise; access; a title, or brand, that people trust; ethical professional standards and an extremely large community of readers. The members of that community could not hope to aspire to anything like that audience or reach on their own; they bring us a rich diversity, specialist expertise and on the ground reporting that we couldn’t possibly hope to achieve without including them in what we do. There is a mutualised interest here. We are reaching towards the idea of a mutualised news organisation.”
Rusbridger’s sentiments exactly echo suggestions that I’ve been making for a while now – that mainstream organisations and bloggers can work together in a wonderfully symbiotic way, each one feeding off the other’s strengths.
It’s a theme that I want to explore a bit in relation to Discover, the network I’m currently snuggled up in. In the wake of Pepsigate and some rumblings of dissatisfaction within Nature Network, there has been a lot of talk about how big media organisations treat their blogger. Having been here for 5 months and counting, I’m pleased to say that I think Discover has it right. The brand is very much associated with a magazine that was launched in the 80s but the online operation isn’t just an unloved step-cousin of this print legacy – it’s a living, nurtured entity that plays to the strengths of the web.
I never really noticed this until I joined, but if you look at the main site, the bloggers are the news; we’re not relegated to the sidelines, we’re front and centre.
Meanwhile, the Discover staffers help to actively promote our work and provide some furiously agile tech support. They also act as curators. The Latest News tab on the front page is basically the feed of the 80Beats blog, which is maintained by Discover staffers who curate material from many different news sources, including us bloggers. They gather, quote, add analysis, and link outwards. This is exactly the type of thing that a modern news organisation should be doing online (see the five questions posed on Terry Heaton’s blog).
Meanwhile, the rest of the Discover site is taken up by exactly the type of content that bloggers traditionally provide little of: multimedia content likevideos and photo-slideshows, and longer features from the magazine. It’s a great model and, in my mind, a good example of how an old-school media organisation can get it right.
And if you want to here more of me going on about how rebooting science journalism in the online age, I’ll be talking at Science Online London 2010 today, September 3rd at 1045 GMT, with the ace panel of David Dobbs, Martin Robbins and Alice Bell. It’ll be livestreamed here.