Science News, the eighty-seven-year-old weekly staple of dedicated science news enthusiasts is making a few changes this month. Or rather, it’s making “Change Without Change,” according to an editor’s note by Tom Siegfried, the publication’s captain of seven months, which appeared in the first redesigned issue. The content, the quality, and the mission are all the same, he says, but based on the philosophy that “weekly is no longer timely,” the magazine is shifting to a biweekly publishing schedule, making each issue larger, and beefing up daily Web content-which will now be free. Siegfried, who was science editor of the Dallas Morning News from 1985 to 2004 and has authored three books about science, talked to CJR about the changes.
Curtis Brainard: Is it nice to be back in the editor’s chair?
Tom Siegfried: It’s great to be in touch with what’s going on in science on a daily basis and figure out how to communicate that to people. There’s always so much science going on, and making the judgments about what rises to the level of people’s need to know or people’s interest in knowing is something that’s not a trivial task and it’s a challenge and a lot of fun to try to deal with that.
CB: Is it a very different experience from editing at a newspaper?
TS: The medium is a little bit different, but it’s the audience that’s the issue. We have an audience consisting of people who are really very interested in science. That audience cuts across all kinds of age groups, and professional groups, and interest groups. Some of them are scientists, some of the them are in professions that are related to science, some are people who have no technical training at all but just have an avid interest in keeping up with science, some are kids in school. And all these people have in common this idea that science is interesting. So, it’s a little bit different than newspapers because you have an audience dedicated specifically to science itself, and that factors a little bit in how you go about making choices-you do some stories in more depth, or some stories in field that wouldn’t ordinarily make it to the top of the newspaper’s list. But the way you go about it is pretty much the same.
CB: Can you explain, “change without change?”
TS: Well, it’s a redesign of the magazine, which is something lots of magazines do from time to time, and Science News has done it, over the years, probably less frequently than many other magazines. But it’s a new look; it’s a change in appearance for the purpose of better calling attention to the content. Science News has always been a source of really high caliber science journalism, but the look has been pretty much the same for a long time, and in the modern media climate of everybody trying to out-shout everybody else with flash and splash, it was time for Science News to take on at least a moderately more modern appearance without sacrificing any of the quality of the content.
Of course, it’s a little more than that, really, because the redesign is in conjunction with some of these other changes-the change in frequency from weekly to biweekly is a really major change in the whole approach of the magazine. But as I’ve pointed out, it’s a way to make the news timelier by allowing us to focus on the Web site as a place for daily coverage of science, and then using the magazine as a repository for the best of that.
CB: Were these decisions made after you took the helm in October?
TS: No, that was part of lengthy review of Science News that was initiated more than two years ago. The decision to change the publication frequency, redesign the magazine, and focus more attention on the Web site had already been made. The execution of it was what began when I was hired last October.
CB: Was the execution difficult?
TS: It was challenging because it was an ambitious plan to remake the magazine and really expand the news coverage that the staff was doing. Yesterday, we put up as many news stories online as we ordinarily had in the old magazine each week. So there’s a lot more news being produced by the staff now, and organizing the logistics to accomplish that while at the same time making a new and bigger magazine-which, you know, has double the number of the pages of the old magazine even though it comes out half as often-was challenging.
CB: Did it involve any changes in staffing?