Archive for the ‘digital journalism’ category


August 4, 2010

ScienceBlogs bloggers live on in very spiffy new digs.

Many of my favorites from the old place have reorganized themselves here, at

Most wonderful, from my perspective, the interaction/conversation between blogs and bloggers that was one of the best (and occasionally worst) of the Seed Megalith’s science blogging aggregation is reproduced here, with much good fellowship and very sharp intelligence.

An evolution to be watched…

Image:  Anicet-Charles-Gabriel Lemonnier, The Salon of Madame Geoffrin” 1812.

Tasty Blog Bits/What Good Young Journalists Can Do In The Right Kind of MSM

July 21, 2010

I’ve long been a fan of the High Country News, not least because they’ve given good work to some of the wonderful students at the best science writing program in the country (I’m supposed to say that, which doesn’t make it untrue).

But these lines from a post reminded me of what makes HCN such bright spot in my MSM reading these days

If natural gas was going to try and pick me up at a bar, the encounter would likely go like this:

Gas: “I’m low-carbon, cute, and widely available.”

Me: “You’re not that cute.”

That’s from a post by HCN Social Network Editor Stephanie Page Ogburn on the marvelously named The Goat Blog, and it is just a treat of journalistic writing in the context of old+new media.

Smart, funny, instantly engaging and all that you need to read on to get a nuanced reaction, backed up by actual real data, to the prospect of natural gas as a bridge fuel from the high to low carbon emission energy system I devoutly hope my son will see.

It can be done; journalism is not dead — and the seeds of its next incarnation can be found, often, far, far from the Bos-Wash corridor.

Image:  Filippo Palazzi, “Hay Car Attacked by Goats,” 1857

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) no number quick update on blogs and books…

January 16, 2010

…which is the topic of tomorrows session at Science Online 2010, led by Rebecca Skloot, Brian Switek and your humble (sure about that?–ed.) blogger.

In the haste of getting to the hotel and then getting together with Rebecca and Brian to figure out what we really are going to talk about tomorrow, I haven’t found the time to write in detail what I had wanted to talk about today:  some thoughts on what the blogs can do — or even whether they should — to step into the void left by the collapse of the American book journalism at the mass media level.

So here’s a truncated version, which I will try to develop later with whatever insights come out of our conversatons tomorrow.

First:  there are tons of books being published — I’ve seen numbers in excess of 200,000 per year in the US.  I expect that number to both rise and fall in coming years:  rise through the opportunities to self publish that exist now in ways that no vanity publisher of an era gone by could have ever imagined; and fall in the category of books published by institutions attempting to reach large audiences through some kind of worked out distribution and publicity channels — “real” publishing as we’ve known it for a couple of centuries, at least.

Second:  whatever the precise balance between non-traditional and old fashioned publishing will turn out to be, the idea of national or broad conversations centered on books is mostly gone.  There are basically three remaining MSM outlets that can drive a book that does not already have its own media platform (Sarah Palin’s memoir, which was an industrial operation, not a literary one, for an obvious recent example).

Those three, in my guess as to order of importance, are The New York Times Sunday Book Review; NPR (which is not a unitary operation, of course) and, a rather distant third, The New Yorker. Some might through the NY Review of Books in there — and it is true that though its circulation is small, it is influential. Other radio and certain TV outlets are important as well, but these are the outlets that still make a claim to provide real literary journalism — to treat books as cultural events to be covered as news.*

(It’s different in the UK, where there is still a considerable literary news hole; but the mother country (literally, in my case is  have a different problem — an exceptionally rapid decline in their high street retail book trade.  But that’s for another post.)

This is not how it used to be.  Earlier in my career, even though I’ve never gotten much of a rise out of the Times, major newspapers around the country actually had reviewers, and devoted some real space to them, and I found I could hope for significant public discussion of my work in the LA Times, in the Chicago Papers, in the Washington Post…a bunch of places.

Now many of those places have stopped reviewing, picking up the AP review if there is one, or simply not bothering.  Meanwhile the Times has cut its reviewing hole, and now maybe checks out, in brief notices included, something between 1,000 and 2,000 books a year.  And there’s a vicious circle there too: book reviewing space in the NYT and in any other newspaper tracks advertising dollars spent to support such space.  As publishers consolidate and find their profit margins shrinking, they spend less on such ads.  As they do so, the book review hole declines…and the opportunity to sell more product goes with it…

and you know that tune.

So here’s the problem:  blogs and web attempts to create communities of writers, readers, and critics are popping up all the time.  They are important. They work — my post of a piece on Scalzi’s Whatever blog, as part of his Big Idea series drove Amazon sales and other blog interest.

But it’s a really big blog that gets 10,000 hits a day.  Only a small handful can hope to get 100,000.  A decent newspaper in a moderate metro area used to do that every day — in quite recent memory.

And of course, mere numbers only tell a part of the story.  Consider, for example the audience partitioning that goes on in the web is another impediment to permitting a book to find that part of its audience that doesn’t know yet that they might be interested in, say, a story about a scientist-cop whose detective career illuminates the birth of the modern idea of money. (If that describes you, here is the inevitable plug: you can find it at  AmazonPowellsBarnes and NobleIndiebound and  across the pond at, and John Smith & Son — not to mention electronically Amazon’s Kindle store.)

So the thought to consider, in all this doom and gloom, is what, if anything, can be done to make up for the gap left by the MSM abandonment of serious books as an essential beat in cultural journalism.

I have some ideas — as do my co-presenters…all to be discussed, I hope, in tomorrow’s session. From thence, to more bloggy meanderings.

*There is one type of venue that is new and that can do enormous good for a book: the non-book oriented avidly followed TV show.  The gold standard now for book publicity is a gig on The Daily Show, or Colbert, or — and happy indeed are the happy few who achieve this for non-fiction trade book — Oprah.  But we are talking a few dozen books at most in any given year, single digits of which would be science or history-of-science works.  So for purposes of this discussion, hope for the best, and prepare for an acceptable alternative.

Image:  Norman Rockwell, “Fact and Fiction,” 1917

On Wise Latinas, Identity and Experience, Civic Media, and the Lethal Stupidity of the Right

June 19, 2009

Another update from the Knight/MIT Future of News/Civic Media conference.  In the final plenary, one of the speakers noted that one of the ways that local and or civic media engages audience is across common experience.

Well, duh…except that the idea of experience and identity advanced in the comment was one with actual meaning, as opposed to the dangerous (lethal) mindlessness of the view captured in mainstream versions in the  Latina=racist nonsense spewed over the Sotomayor nomination.

Here’s the example:  Imagine someone in town, living on the good side of the community with an annual income of 100K.  Now imagine another person, working poor, renting across town.  Not members of the same community, right?  Different identities across all the “important” axes, perhaps.

Now imagine they both are parents of six year-olds with leukemia.

Speaking as a parent of a (thankfully, touch wood) healthy child, there is no doubt as to the identity of such parents.  They are people with sick kids.  Everything else is secondary.

And there is no doubt that the experience of taking care of your kid, and your spouse, yourself will without doubt give you a quality of wisdom on issues like the current state of American health care, that the parent of a healthy kid will never quite match.  Sympathy is no substitute for empathy (not that I wish the opportunity for empathy in this circumstance on anyone).  Lived experience makes a difference (duh!) and ranges of experience represented in power…and in the creation of media…the consumption and or participation in the making of information … and so on.

And clearly, as a background for creating media applications that have an economic rationale and an intellectual or informative purpose, the most diverse view of connections of identity, self, and experience is not just useful, but essential.

And that’s so airy that I wince at my own words:  but what I’m trying to say is that when I first got involved in pull media, a VOD project called MagRack, the idea was to narrow cast on a very crude definition of interested populations.  We had no real data to help us refine our groups.  Now we do — and clearly one of the pro-active steps we can take to create an economically possible new media environment is to think creatively how to create communities across interests that conventional “census”-like categories (Latino/as, wise or not; RV owners etc.) don’t capture.

That’s still pretty airy, which is a state of mind conferences like these encourage — born in part of a sense of glorious unanchored possibility in everyone’s good ideas.  But I don’t think (I hope not, anyway) that it is entirely stupid.

Image:  “Passer Payez”, a ca. 1803 painting by Louis-Leopold Boilly.

Stray thought from the Knight Future of News and Civic Media MIT conference

June 19, 2009

Just hearing a bunch of proposals for new projects to advance civic media.  Kind of a blur — but much cool stuff.  My ears perked up, however at the mention of, a site that enables the creation of local magazines from blogs or other web sources.

I quickly surfed on over, clicked on the “create your magazine” button, and arrived at this starting point — a list of topics or departments for your new magazine.

Look carefully.

What’s missing?

Science, of course.

Nature, too, any way to connect local news to most local of ways people find entry into science — things like birding or amateur astronomy or weather watching.

All of which is a way of wondering why this most important of stories gets no respect…and to say that I took the opportunity afforded by meatspace meetings to put this to the Printcasting guy here — who promised new categories on the way ASAP.

One small step for a science-literate population…

Image:  John James Audobon, “Carolina Pigeons,” plate 17 from Volume IV, Audubon’s Birds of America.