Matthew Nisbet has an interesting post up today about the future of science journalism. He sees it in things like Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth, or the excellent Yale Forum on Science and the Media. Nisbet wonders whether these sorts of non-traditional approaches are the future of my business:
With fewer and fewer outlets for science coverage at the mainstream news organizations, The Observatory, Dot Earth, and the Yale Forum represent the future of science journalism. The future will be online, in film, and/or multi-media, merging reporting with synthesis, analysis, personal narrative, and opinion. The goals will be to inform but also to persuade and to mobilize. And most importantly, it will be non-profit, sponsored by universities, museums, think tanks, foundations, professional societies such as AAAS, or government affiliated organizations such as NSF or the National Academies.
I strongly disagree.
As I said in the comments on his blog, I love the sites Nisbet cited. I expect a large proportion of you, at least the science wonk part of Inkstain’s modest readership, already read Dot Earth and the like. But Inkstain and Dot Earth have a self-selected readership. I love what Revkin’s doing on the blog, but it does not come close to the importance of what he does in the main paper. This is because the newspaper thrown on readers’ driveways (do New Yorkers have driveways?) reaches a broad audience, not merely the self-selected audience that adds Revkin to their RSS reader. I love reading the New York Times (I read it in paper form) as much for the exposure to ideas I never would have sought out. I love writing for the Albuquerque Journal because I think the issues I cover are important, and working for a broad circulation newspaper allows me to get those issues in front of the eyeballs of people who might not have sought them out, but who I believe will benefit by being exposed to them.
Dot Earths and Flocks of Dodos are great, but in terms of reach they will never replace the opportunity afforded by broad circulation mainstream media.