The subject of multiple layers of multimedia came off as more unfamiliar and unconventional than blogging, which Rensberger only half-jokingly referred to as “old-fashioned” by the end of the conference, and which got less attention overall. Clive Thompson, who runs the blog Collision Detection and contributes to The New York Times Magazine and Wired, talked up many of its benefits, however, saying that it keeps him “hungry for fresh material” and improves the way he thinks and acts as a journalist. “There’s a cognitive advantage in having a blog,” he said. Thompson stirred up a little disagreement, though, when he pointed to a post he’d written the day before, titled “Why C-section births might cause eczema in babies.” It was based on the press release for a study in a clinical journal, which reported that babies that do not pick up enough of a certain bacteria during vaginal birth are more likely develop eczema. The release didn’t actually mention caesarean sections, however, and a few audience members questioned the responsibility of extrapolating such a conclusion. Thompson defended blogs as a place to explore ideas and pose logical questions.
Another of the meeting’s contentious moments came when Dianne Lynch, dean of the communications school at Ithaca College, delivered a speech about independent journalism. She suggested that communities without an aggressive local news outlet could hire a reporter to investigate local issues, such as school governance. This raised ethical flags with a number of journalists.
It was a lot to absorb in one conference. But despite a few misgivings about certain data, trends, and proposals, the journalists in attendance were generally optimistic about the future. There is a lot of pessimism and prognostication about the decline of science journalism at the moment, as there is in the media industry at large, but it’s hard to worry too much with such large group of talented reporters who are determined to both innovate and elevate standards.