Are you interested in becoming a science blogger? A panel of top bloggers at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) 2013 shared their experience today – with tips and insights that would be a great starting point for anyone who wants to start a science blog.
For Ed Yong, a blogger with National Geographic who writes the wonderful Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, science blogging was his way to get into science writing back in 2006.
“Blogging offers you such freedom with your stories. You don’t have to do any pitching, you can just write about what you want,” says Yong. “The blog is a playground and a laboratory for writing. It allows you to practice everyday without the need for commissioning or anything.”
He also uses the blog to try out different formats and styles of writing without the normal editorial process.
Bora Zivkovic, who is the blogs editor at Scientific American and writes A Blog Around The Clock, likes how people can do things differently with blogs. Several bloggers have shifted from news writing to try to spice things up, such as mixing science with history or philosophy. Others are going visual, using cartoons for example to communicate science or producing simple videos like Minute Physics.
It is also a good tool to build up your network of contacts which is essential for a science journalist. It has become more than just a way to enter into science journalism, adds Zivkovic. Blogs are now also the place where great science writing is happening. It is a way to bring science to a broader audience that may not necessarily be reading science magazines.
There is, however, a flip side to the editorial freedom science bloggers get. Quoting Spider-Man, Yong stresses that “with great power comes great responsibility.” the fact that the work of bloggers is mostly not edited means they are responsible for their own credibility.
“My process for writing a blog post or writing for a paper somewhere have become completely indistinguishable. I do interviews and quotes and everything for both,” says Yong.
The other issues is that, as Betsy Mason, who is the science editor at Wired, puts it, very few people can make a living – or any significant money – out of science blogging. This may be a downer to many people who are thinking about launching their blogs, but Yong points out that bloggers need to broaden their views about the payback from their blogs.
“Looking at the cheque you get for blogging as the only reward is a very short-sighted way to see things. I would not be doing any of the things I’m doing now if I didn’t start that blog in 2006,” he says.
For Zivkovic (who is better known for his Twitter handle @BoraZ) science blogging was a gateway for science journalism. Bloggers on the Scientific American blogging platform now have three book deals, prizes and even a movie appearance!
Finally, the issue which discourages the bulk of bloggers after a few months of writing is the small audiences. When asked how to generate more traffic, all the panelists stressed that the best way is to produce excellent content and let it speak for itself.
“You can’t really be doing traffic chasing without looking like you are doing traffic chasing,” says Yong.
The science media landscape is changing – and blogging can be a powerful tool for young people or even students who would like to launch a science journalism career. Additionally, the dearth of sustainable Arabic science blogs means there’s a huge opportunity for people willing to fill this up. The science blogging landscape may be saturated in the West, but it is still in its infancy I the Arab world which is the most exciting time to take that jump!