Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Penthouse Is Falling

David Dobbs, accomplished author and moderator of the session "Rebooting Science Journalism: Adapting to the New Media Landscape," described his dismay at finally feeling like he "made it" in the freelance writing world, only to have the industry change and the magazine he worked for close.

"I was at the party in the penthouse, then they began taking the building down," Dobbs said. At first he faulted people changing their news habits from print to the Internet, and predicted doom for science journalism because of it. But now he's come to admit that science journalism is alive and well, it's just changed its form and pay scale.

Betsy Mason, editor of Wired Science, claims to have heard of the "penthouse" of writing, but characterizes herself as playing ping pong in the basement. She edits both blogged and reported stories for Wired Science and struggles with differentiating the two forms effectively for readers because they are posted right next to each other on the site.

Despite her biases in coming from the print world, Mason has come to realize that it's OK to tweet a story even though all the reporting is not complete yet. "I've learned that sharing online is good. There are more opportunities now for contributing to the science discussion. Instead of placing blame, we need to think about science journalism as a whole and how we can make it stronger than ever."

Most of the discussion in this session involved changing expectations and taking advantage of the new tools available (blogs, tweets, Facebook) for writers to showcase their expertise. Although doing so may not pay at first, it can eventually open up opportunities.

The ability to cover a story more thoroughly without space constraints was noted by panelists as an advantage blogging has over traditional media. Bloggers are also not constrained by writing to a certain reading level.

"Blogging makes journalism better by adding value and through personal reporting," said Dobbs. "There's no set inventory on the internet."

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