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Thursday, 2 April 2009

Do bloggers need editors?

The debate about the merits of bloggers versus "professional" science writers rattles on. You can read a lot of it in a recent post on something called A Blog Around The Clock, within Seed's ScienceBlogs empire. The piece in question, Defining the Journalism vs. Blogging Debate, with a Science Reporting angle, comes from someone who clearly thinks he has a lot to contribute to the debate. And it really is a lot.

This raises an issue that does not seem to enter into the ruminations of the bloggers. They rattle on about accuracy, timeliness and stuff, but rarely get into things like the choice of a story and practical things like readability and length.

My software tells me that this piece is more than 10,000 words long. That may be a inaccurate, life is too short to read the piece carefully, let alone to count the words.

Which publication would allow a writer to rabbit on at that length? Even in its most ponderous days Scientific American would have seen that as at the upper limit of readability. And on New Scientist, another place where they cover science at greater length than most newspapers, it would have been a crime against humanity.

It is just too easy to write too much when you don't have an editor shouting at you. That is one reason why it is harder to write science for tabloid newspapers than for broadsheets. The editors are less tolerant on the tabloids.

Written by a specialist in "chronobiology (circadian rhythms and photoperiodism), with additional interests in comparative physiology, animal behavior and evolution," this particular item may contain some gems. (The readers who commented seem to think so, but they fall into the usual mould for blogdom "Great post, awesome" sums up the insight available in most responses.) Few readers, though, will have the staying power to mine them all.

An editor would have told our expert to focus on one or two points and to make them clearly and concisely. The editor would also have asked who the audience might be.

Unlike bloggers, profesional writers see little point in writing for their own consumption. Ideally, they want to reach people who would normally avoid the subject. You don't do that by writing too much.

A paradox here is that the web is supposed to be a very different medium: writers have to "screen at a time" reading. This guy witters on for screen after screen.

Maybe there is a point to Twitter after all.