Flight of the bloggers

Despite recent departures, Discover is rebuilding fast

Amidst a move from New York to Wisconsin, Discover magazine has lost some of its most popular science bloggers in recent weeks, but the publisher says that the outlet is as committed to its brand as ever.

In mid November, Phil Plait took his blog, Bad Astronomy, to Slate. Last week, Sean Carroll announced that he was leaving Cosmic Variance, a group blog, to write at his personal website. And on Tuesday, Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong revealed that they are soon moving their blogs, The Loom and Not Exactly Rocket Science, to a new group at National Geographic called Phenomena. Discover is already rebuilding, however, and Keith Kloor, another favorite of the science blogosphere, wrote last week his independent blog, Collide-a-Scape, will soon join its site.

“We’re disappointed to see all these people leave, because we like them a lot and we’re very proud of having the role that we did in bringing their blogs to a wider audience,” said publisher Kevin Keefe. “But our philosophy and our strategy regarding bloggers hasn’t changed. We launched a new website a couple weeks ago. We’re very proud of it. We’re proud of how it looks. We’re proud of how it works. And the blogging platform is very prominent on the site.”

This summer, Kalmbach Publishing Co., which bought Discover in 2010, decided to move the magazine’s New York City office, which will close Friday, to its headquarters in Waukesha, WI, near Milwaukee. None of the staff followed, although executive editor Pamela Weintraub will stay on, working remotely from New York, according to Keefe. Corey Powell, formerly the editor in chief, will also telecommute, taking over sole responsibility for the print magazine’s space and physics department, “Out There,” which will be extended to the website as a new blog.

A fresh staff of about a dozen, which will grow by one or two more in coming months, is now in place in Waukesha under the direction of the new EIC, Stephen C. George. Kalmbach will issue a press release with details later this week or next.

“We’re mentioning everybody, because we want people to know we’ve hired a pretty well-credentialed group of people to work here,” Keefe said.

The changes in Discover’s blog lineup reflect increasing competition among different outlets to capture the best science bloggers. In fact, Discover was one of the first science magazines to begin scooping up independent blogs and drawing writers away from other communities, especially Seed Media Group’s Scienceblogs.com (which is now managed by National Geographic). But Scientific American, Wired, The Guardian, and PLoS have also gotten in on the action and built up all-star communities in the past few years.

Both Zimmer and Yong described their decisions to move to National Geographic as efforts to find the right “fit” for their blogs, and expressed gratitude to their colleagues Discover for years of support.

National Geographic made a great offer that came pretty much simultaneously with the announcement that Discover was moving,” said Yong, who’s based in London. “I love NG, they reach a huge audience, and [the editors] seem very committed to this nascent collective. This was definitely a case of me being pulled away, rather than being pushed away.”

Joining Yong and Zimmer at National Geographic’s Phenomena group are Brian Switek, who’s bringing over his dinosaur and paleontology blog, Laelaps, from Wired, and Virginia Hughes, who’s leaving the independent group blog, Last Word on Nothing, to write one of her own for National Geographic, called Only Human, that “will be all about people — our genes, cells, brains, behaviors, history and culture,” she wrote in her announcement.

Movement in the blogosphere is nothing unusual, of course. National Geographic will be The Loom’s fifth home, said Zimmer, who self-published before moving on to the Corante network, Scienceblogs.com, and Discover.

“Things are unquestionably different from 10 years ago, when we science bloggers had to download buggy software in order to blog on our own websites,” he said. “But the competition among big science outlets has been growing for years now. I expect it to continue to grow—which is a good thing!”

National Geographic will be the fourth home for Not Exactly Rocket Science, which followed the same track as The Loom, minus the Corante network.

“Personally, I think it’s marvelous to still see so much dynamism in the science blogosphere,” Yong said. “At SciAm, Bora Zivkovic is doing great work giving new people a chance to cut their teeth, Wired and The Guardian are going from strength to strength, places like National Geographic, Forbes, Slate, and Discover are recruiting established people and paying them well for their trouble… I haven’t even mentioned half of them—it’s a rich, thriving, and increasingly diverse ecosystem.”

National Geographic’s science editor, Jamie Shreeve, is overseeing Phenomena. “I’m really excited this is finally happening,” he said when asked about the project, adding that he couldn’t say more on the record because some of the details of the project are still being worked out.

As for Discover, it is no wonder that the magazine tapped Kloor, whose provocative environment and sustainability blog, Collide-a-Scape, has earned a devoted following in the four years since its launch.

“We’re happy to have Keith join us for a number of reasons,” Keefe said. “He’s had a long and positive relationship with Discover and other science media. We like the profile he’s established in the field, and we certainly like how he writes and thinks.”

In the science blogosphere, it’s game on, Keefe added: “Slate and National Geographic are obviously in the hunt, and so are we.”

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , , , ,