The Last Word On Nothing is an exciting new group blog, gathering wonderful and quirky writing by a large and growing crew of science writers. I am pleased they ALL decided to answer my questions about their site, their work, and their views on the current media environment.
1) Let me begin with you – can you tell our readers, please,who are you, where you come from and how you got into science blogging?
Heather Pringle: I’m a freelance science writer in Vancouver and I got into science blogging a few years back by blogging for Archaeology magazine.
Ann Finkbeiner: I'm a freelance science writer in Baltimore. I got into science blogging because Heather asked me to and I always do what Heather says; and I was underemployed and out of ideas. Writing what I want to write in the way I want to write it, is a pure blessing.
Jessa Gamble: I write from Toronto, and really I’m a generalist with scientific leanings. I was invited into the LWON crew by Tom Hayden, and it’s created an incredible feeling of collegiality -- a real rarity in this writing game of ours.
Michelle Nijhuis: I’m a science journalist based in rural Colorado. Because I love long-form feature work, I’ve always been a bit reluctant to blog -- I thought I wouldn’t like the pace and style. But when I got to know the Last Word on Nothing crew, I realized that they were doing long-form journalism in miniature -- they were telling great stories, and providing context and truly fresh perspective on the science news of the day. After Tom Hayden asked me to guest post, I realized that blogging for LWON wouldn’t be a departure from my usual work, but a chance to put long-form reporting tools to work in a different way. (The editorial freedom is delicious, too!)
Christie Aschwanden: I'm a freelance science writer in Cedaredge, Colorado. I started blogging because Tom Hayden asked me if I would write a guest post about a new development in a story I'd already covered elsewhere. In the process of writing that guest post, I discovered that it's really fun to write without the constraints of an assignment letter.
Thomas Hayden: I started blogging with LWON because Ann Finkbeiner asked me to, and I’ve never gone wrong doing what she says. After many years of covering science as a staff and freelance magazine journalist, I now teach science writing at Stanford. Most of my creative energy goes into helping students to write, rather than doing it myself. LWON gives me the outlet to keep my own chops, and writerly soul, alive.
Virginia (Ginny) Hughes: I’m a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. I started blogging (crappily) in 2005, but ramped up a couple years later when I became one of the cat herders at ScienceBlogs. I started blogging for LWON about a year ago, when Ann Finkbeiner asked me to. A good general rule in life is to please Ann in any way possible.
Sally Adee: Another volunteer in Ann’s army. We are legion. I’m also an editor at New Scientist in London. I can’t recall whether I’m part of this community so I can blog here, or if I blog here so I can be part of this community.
Cassandra Willyard: Like Ginny, I’m a freelancer in Brooklyn. My passion is infectious diseases (ask me about leishmaniasis and other horrifying tropical infections!). I started my own blog in 2009, but I didn’t post regularly. So when Ann asked me to join LWON, I was delighted. Like most freelancers, I need deadlines. As everyone else said, writing what you want when you want is liberating.
Richard Panek: I live in Manhattan, and I write books and articles, mostly about science. Ann invited me aboard; I know her because I gave one of her books a very positive review. Apparently her gratitude takes the form of asking me to write for free, and apparently my affection for her takes the form of saying yes.
Erika Check Hayden: I’m a writer for Nature in San Francisco. I blog with LWON because it is a wonderful community.
2) Everyone seems to agree that the summer of 2010 saw some big and important changes in the science blogging ecosystem. What are your own thoughts on this? Where do you think it will go next, over the next couple of years?
Ginny here. I’m the one answering this question because most of the other LWONers don’t follow the politics of the science blogosphere. There’s no need to, really. My thoughts are that the balkanized era of science blogging is pretty much over. Yes, there are separate networks, hosted by Discover and SciAm and Wired and ScienceBlogs and so many others. This is nice because it means that some bloggers are getting paid for good work. But I follow individual blogs, not networks. Good writing about interesting topics always wins, and that will be true no matter how the networks change. So let’s all stop chattering so much about ecosystems and just create some fantastic content, yea?
3) How do you personally read science blogs? Do you use feeds, or social networks, or some other ways of keeping track of the science blogging world? How do you find new blogs?
Ann: I rely on the social networks, mostly Twitter and sometimes Facebook.
Jessa: I’m ashamed to say that I don’t keep close track of many other science blogs. There’s this weird effect where too much input in a given subject somehow blocks my output.
Thomas: I scan about 8 or 10 science blogs on a weekly basis, and follow the rest (and learn about new ones) primarily through recommendations on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll usually follow a blog closely for a while when I meet/follow/am followed by someone new.
Ginny: I have a long list of RSS feeds, but truth be told I usually don’t keep up with them. I read posts that people Tweet or post on Facebook.
Sally: I pretty much just follow Ed Yong’s links...
Cassandra: Ditto what Ginny said.
4) Tell us a little bit more about LWON. How did it come about? Who started it and why? How many of the bloggers mirror their posts on their own blogs and how many write only for the network? By what process do you add bloggers to the network – do they apply, do you invite them, or some other way?
Heather here. I thought it would be fun to get a group of science writers together to create a science blog that would be personal, free-spirited, and visually beautiful. It didn’t take long to rope in two other writers, Josie Glausiusz and Ann Finkbeiner, and the three of us began skyping and emailing furiously to figure out how to create such a blog. From the start, we saw it as a way to ditch the drudgery of pitching ideas to editors and writing to a magazine’s requirements. We hoped it would become a place where science writers could do their best work. Over the past year and a half, we have slowly built up our group by inviting people whose work we really like and admire. Only one person has turned us down so far, which is really amazing as we can’t afford to pay for posts. And I just about forgot-- we post original content and don’t do much mirroring.
5) Where do you see LWON within the global science blogging ecosystem – what is its position, how does it differ from others, what service does it provide?
Ann: We're all different ages, (more or less) different writing specialties, and cover 8 time zones. We value good writing and pictures that resonate with it. We seem to be interested in the human aspects/implications/evocations of science.
Jessa: The fact that we’re unaffiliated (blog-wise, and many of us individually) gives us the freedom to push our scope ever wider and really let our personalities into our writing. We’re speaking for ourselves rather than voicing a particular magazine or institutional slant. We’re also raw and unedited. An editor’s hand often improves a piece of writing but inevitably dilutes the voice.
Christie: We're a general interest science blog that delivers eclectic stories with voice and verve. Our readers may not come to the site specifically seeking information about the virtues of crap technology or how taxi drivers in London find their way around the tangled city, but they come knowing that they'll be treated to good writing on interesting subjects.
Thomas: There are all sorts of layers of non-blogging relationships among the People of LWON, but it’s hard to say exactly what unifies us as a group. It does feel very united and organic to me though, despite our wildly different interests, backgrounds and styles. I think it’s significant that we were all writers before we were bloggers, and that we’re all committed to the work of writing and story telling, as well as to the content. That, and the fact that we all take deep delight in stepping outside of our usual relationships with editors and publications. Plus, I think that most of the time we’re either having fun or getting something important off our chests--as a reader of the other LWONians’ posts, that gives me a sense of continual surprise, and often, catharsis.
Ginny: I’ll echo Tom that what unites us is that we care first about telling a good story, and second about the implications of the science within that story. And we all seem to appreciate quirkiness, in one form or another.
Sally: Everyone here seems to be dedicated to beautiful writing. So many of the posts I read here veer into sheer poetry, like Ann’s resonance post. I love reading them. Science writing should be more like poetry and less pedantic. I’m naturally prone to pedantry, so here I try to swing my pendulum more in the direction of Italo Calvino. I like the breathing room here at LWON, the fact that the other contributors don’t email me and ask me what the $%^& I was talking about in that last post, and the ability to experiment with structural or narrative risks that might not pan out.
Cassandra: I hope that we can add a bit of wonder and beauty to the science blogging world, along with the occasional rant. And as Ginny said, we’re all suckers for quirk.
Richard: My background is in journalism and fiction, not science (at all), so I try to bring a storytelling sensibility to what I write. The subject just happens to be science, but the implications are as universal as they would be in any narrative. I find that my fellow LWON contributors share that aesthetic, and that they’re willing to do so at the length and depth that such an approach requires. Each post is a little miracle. I don’t know how distinctive that makes us among science blogs, but I find that for me the dedication to this aesthetic makes each of my fellow LWONians posts a surprise and a revelation. I’d say that the attention to the accompanying artwork is a bonus, but I think it’s become an essential.
6) What is next for LWON?
Ann: Whatever we can get 11 busy people motivated to do. We're interested in experimenting with other media, audio and visual. We're interested in the possibilities of apps.
Jessa: I’m actually kind of interested in creating some kind of school supplement package where students could get more currently relevant writing on science as part of their classes, delivered daily.
Thomas: World domination, duh. Other than that though, I don’t think any one of us knows what more than one or two of the others is up to at any given moment, let alone where we all might head together over the next year or two. The surprises are a big part of the fun.
Sally: I’m going to try illustrating my posts and hope no one notices.
Cassandra: I’d like to play around with audio, slideshows and video. I’m also interested in writing more personal essays. And we’ve tossed around the idea of an advice column.
Richard: Filling next week’s schedule.
Name of the site: The Last Word on Nothing
Feed URL: http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/feed/
Motto, or subheading, or one-line explanation: Science: clear, crafty, and delivered to your door
Owner (if corporate); Nobody
Founder(s): Heather Pringle, Josie Glausiusz, Ann Finkbeiner
Current community manager: none
Geographical location: New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Vancouver, London, Toronto, and western Colorado
Date of launch: May 20, 2010
Number of bloggers on the day of launch: 3
Maximum number of bloggers in the history of the site: 11
Current number of bloggers: 11
Average monthly traffic (visits/pageviews): 28,500/40,000
Top Bloggers: Every single blessed one
Key events from the history of the site: Each addition of each new LWONer, first anniversary