The Science Beat: Riding a Wave, Going Somewhere
– Charles Petit
Guardian Blogger Spoofs Science Journalism
– Jonathan Seitz
Early this fall The Guardian took an innovative approach to expanding its coverage of the science beat. The British newspaper debuted a slate of bloggers that includes experts in evolution and climate change, a former politician, and a physics professor, each of whom writes about their area of expertise. Dubbed “Guardian Science Blogs,” the lineup includes a dedicated group of four bloggers. It will also feature other science writers from around the Web in the Notes & Theories blog, moderated by two of The Guardian’s science reporters.

The most adventurous part of The Guardian’s endeavor might be what it lacks: the pre-publication scrutiny of professional journalists. The postings on the blogs appear on The Guardian’s website without passing by an editor’s eye—and as such, each carries the somewhat equivocal tagline “Hosted by the Guardian.” As Guardian science and environment correspondent, Alok Jha, who came up with this idea of adding bloggers to the beat, explained to Megan Garber of the Nieman Journalism Lab, “It’s is a completely new model for us … nothing here is unedited.”

In a posting introducing this website feature, Jha described the rationale for enlisting these bloggers. “[T]housands of scientists, journalists, hobbyists and numerous other interested folk write about and create lively discussions around paleontology, astronomy, viruses and other bugs, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, evolutionary biology, extraterrestrial life or bad science. … The Guardian’s science blogs network is an attempt to bring some of the expertise and these discussions to our readers.” He added that research in 2009 by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism revealed that science stories make up 10 percent of all blog posts, but only 1 percent of mainstream news.

The Guardian’s blogging corps tends to rely more on humor and their own experiences than on actual reporting, thereby injecting fresh voices and a decidedly different tone into the newspaper’s typical coverage of science. In offering this alternative voice, The Guardian may have found a low-cost, high-value way to keep the science beat afloat financially; as compensation, the bloggers receive the exposure that The Guardian’s prestige and global reach affords them and a 50/50 revenue share from the advertisements displayed on their blogs, Jha explained to the Nieman Lab.

As Garber noted, The Guardian is not the first to debut a network of amateur science bloggers; The Public Library of Science and Wired magazine each has its own lineup. But such collaboration is rarely seen in major newspapers—and how well this experiment will work remains to be seen.

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