February 10, 2019

Starting a science blog? Items to consider.

Posted by Laura Guertin

This question is one that appears frequently on social media, is discussed among graduate students, and at times a required component of some science courses for undergraduate students. And there are several sources out there to help individuals start a science blog, such as the Science Blogging 101 post from Sarah Boon and a comparison of blogging sites by startbloggingonline.com.

Although blogs still have some popularity and new blogs continue to be established, other blogs are signing off. The Guardian’s science blog network shut down in August 2018, as did this blog:

In her article announcing the closure of her Scicurious blog, Bethany Brookshire states, “Blogs are no longer one single thing where people do one single thing (if they ever were at all). Blogs aren’t a way to write a story. They aren’t a conversational tone. A blog is a platform. A place to do work with a more personalized take.” Bethany states that she used her blogs as her “on-the-job training in science journalism”. She continues, “I no longer mix opinion with summaries of scientific studies … I produce journalism, and I am a very different creature from the scientist who started blogging in 2008…”

Bethany is not the only person to use a blog to build experience and skills to then transition to a career in journalism. In 2017, Ed Young announced he was shutting down his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog at National Geographic. Ed states that Not Exactly Rocket Science was “where I honed my skills through nigh-daily practice, built my reputation, and taught myself how to do journalism.” Over time, he says “I began to self-identify as a journalist rather than a science communicator, my approach to blogging also changed. More and more of the posts were fully reported, and the writing style skewed closer and closer to what I’d write in paying publications.” You can read more on this topic at Is a Science Blog Still a Viable Path into Science Journalism?, where the author echos that “some viewed science blogging as an activity that could be taken up by anyone with sufficient expertise, regardless of formal training in journalism. In the last few years, however, science blogging has become increasingly professionalized.”

Certainly, there are several science bloggers out there that are not looking to transition to a career in journalism. A recent Nature Career Feature reports that “blogs continue to be an effective platform for communicating your science to major stakeholders — and the public.” The authors state that blogging “continues to play a major part in sparking collaborations, conveying crucial information and strengthening scientific communities.” Yet this Nature article cites an unpublished study of German scientists, finding that 15% had started a blog, but few updated it with any regularity. In fact, in the same study, nearly two-thirds of the 865 respondents said that a lack of time was a ‘great obstacle’ to any sort of science communication. Another concern connected to blogging is responding to the constant need for new content, which can take “tremendous discipline.” Additional risks include being subject to abuse (especially female bloggers), and the perception/value of the activity from academic colleagues (especially for faculty that are pre-tenure).

As an AGU blogger, I am occasionally asked for advice on blogging. Below are some of the points I share, adding to the wealth of suggestions out there.

Do some exploring online… Are there any blogs already out there on the topic/theme of what you would like to start? If not, are you sure there is an audience looking for a blog on topic “x”? I strongly recommend doing some guest blogging for other platforms with a wider audience. Until you’ve blogged, it’s difficult to realize how much time it will take, how much background research is necessary, how to find your “voice” online, etc. And I would recommend reading lots of lots of different types of blogs to get a sense of the variety of styles, tones, uses of images/video, etc., that are out there. In the end, it is an individual decision to start your own blog or to join an existing blogging community, but should be framed around an overarching goal for “why blog” to a listing of secondary objectives you as an author are hoping to achieve.

Something else to think about… is a blog really they medium you want to use to communicate? See this quote from Bethany Brookshire, and perhaps explore my blog post from last week on Starting a podcast? This might be the year.

“In the digital realm, though, evolution moves quickly. Now, there are more ways to communicate about science than ever before. Scientists and science communicators can directly give people their personal takes in many ways, from Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to weekly newsletters and podcasts.”  —  Brookshire, This Blog is Dead. Long Live the Blog.