Scientific American, the United States’s oldest continuously published magazine, today announced the appointment of Mariette DiChristina as the eighth and first female editor-in-chief in the magazine’s 164-year history.
DiChristina, formerly the magazine’s executive editor, will oversee the print, Web, and special newsstand editions of both Scientific American and Scientific American Mind from their New York offices. Reflecting upon the historical significance of her promotion, DiChristina wrote in an email that she believes having a female editor-in-chief at Scientific American reflects ideals inherent in science itself. Science, she says, “consists of a diverse array of disciplines and embraces the different interests and viewpoints of people working in those disciplines…. Having a woman as editor-in-chief of Scientific American might encourage people to think, ‘Hey, science could include someone like me.’”
DiChristina’s appointment comes nearly six months after Scientific American laid off more than twenty employees, including editor-in-chief John Rennie and president Steven Yee. Around the same time, in what Portfolio reported as a “major reorganization” of the magazine’s administration, the London-based Nature Publishing Group—a division of Macmillan Publishers—assumed the operation of Scientific American, which had previously operated as an independent entity within the Macmillan hierarchy. Rennie had served Scientific American for twenty years, including the last fifteen as editor-in-chief. DiChristina had been the magazine’s acting editor-in-chief since Rennie’s departure.
Now, with the magazine’s editorial leadership finally established, Scientific American staffers can begin to put the strain of June’s staffing shake-up behind them. “It’s a clear benefit to Scientific American,” DiChristina says. “That lets us move forward more decisively and focus on the future.”
Indeed, progress at the magazine is evident: the monthly unique views at ScientificAmerican.com for October topped off at 2.09 million (a 1.8 percent increase over the same month last year) while page views for the same month were listed at 8.9 million, an increase of 3.2% percent (according to Omniture, a web analytics firm). The new editor says that the upward trends are the result of Scientific American’s ownership transition.
“The media announcements that we make now get the support of the Nature publicity team. And Scientific American’s Web site has been enriched by being able to offer additional content for visitors from Nature News and also Nature-produced videos,” reports DiChristina. By contrast, growth during the magazine’s years as an independent entity at Macmillan may have been inhibited, given that “Scientific American stood alone as the sole consumer magazine in what was essentially a book division of Macmillan U.S.”
DiChristina’s philosophy for the magazine emphasizes reader input. “As a longtime science journalist,” she says, “I find the case for ‘evolution and selection’ very compelling. By that I mean I’m always looking for ways to make the print and digital editions of the magazine more appealing for readers—and readers ‘select’ them by letting us know what they like and what they don’t.” Some changes so far include the reorganization of ScientificAmerican.com for easier navigation, and the restructuring of the print magazine’s News Scan feature, the items in which will now be aligned by reader interest.
“Publications are organic creatures, and they adapt over time to survive,” she says. In addition to the editorial changes she’s employed, DiChristina is thinking long-term. “I have also been speaking with members of the Nature Publishing Group’s educational division to see what role Scientific American might play in inspiring an interest in science in young people (a.k.a., future readers and science-interested citizens).”
Promoting youth interest in the magazine is something the new editor, a mother of two, is presently doing at home. Before her appointment was announced to the media today—spurring all sorts of commentary on women in science and leadership roles—DiChristina consulted her two daughters on the matter last night over dinner. “My eighth grader said, ‘Well, Mommy, it gives something people to look up to.’ I felt rather humbled by that.”
Reporting contributed by Curtis Brainard.Sara Germano is an intern at CJR.