Tag Archives: blogging

Journalists learn more about using social media tools

By Shuka Kalantari (@skalantari; @KQEDhealth)
KQED Public Radio

Though blogging and social media have been around for some time now, some people still argue that blogging, social media and journalism should be independent of one another. Scott Hensley of NPR’s Shots blog contends that couldn’t be further from the truth.

During a panel about “Best practices in blogging and social media” at Health Journalism 2011, Hensley said bloggers and journalists are perfect matches for each other. So how does a blogger decide what to write about?

The #ahcj11 Twitter stream helped attendees share information at Health Journalism 2011.

The #ahcj11 Twitter stream helped attendees share information at Health Journalism 2011.

“I want to write the most interesting stuff online,” Hensley said. “The stuff that is burning to be done right now, then see where it goes.”

He advised journalists to check their Twitter feed in the morning as it might give you story ideas.

“Twitter and Facebook can be a booster rocket to make a post go viral.” He added that it doesn’t always work but, if the post is interesting, it’s worth a shot. Hensley says that in addition to checking news sites, he always checks his personal Twitter feed – @scotthensley – as well as the NPR’s Twitter feed – @NPRhealth – to see what’s going on in the Twittersphere.

Ivan Oransky, treasurer of AHCJ’s board of directors, is the executive editor of Reuters Health and blogger for Retraction Watch and Embargo Watch. He joined the blogosphere in 2006 for The Scientist. Oransky says that search engine optimization (SEO) is key for any blogger. If you have a subject you are covering, be sure to use key words that will attract people.

“SEO, to me, means using key words where people that were interested in that subject would want to read about,” Oransky said.

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Adding context to embargo-driven journalism

Over at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Matthew Battles latches onto John Rennie’s column about the future of science journalism, then talks to Ed Yong and AHCJ’s own treasurer, Ivan Oransky, M.D., about embargoes, timelines and cutting through the noise.

Battles focuses on the effort to pursue context in a profession that is so often at the mercy of academic journals. After all, as he writes in his introduction, “The events that science journalists publish about most frequently are themselves acts of publishing: the appearance of research papers in peer-reviewed journals.” The rest of his piece will serve as a handy primer for anyone looking to understand why that particular state of affairs is so pervasive and persistent.

For AHCJ members who want to know more about responsibly covering studies and how to recognize and report the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals, be sure to see “Covering Medical Research.”

Exploring ethics, standards in science blogging

As a follow up to ScienceOnline 2011, independent journalist Maryn McKenna writes about bringing the standards of journalism to blogging.

Maryn McKenna

Maryn McKenna

At the annual meeting that brings together scientists, journalists, bloggers and others interested in communicating about science, McKenna took part in a discussion about ethics and credibility.

Regular readers of Covering Health will remember last year’s ScienceBlogs controversy as well as health journalist Mary Knudson’s decision to not blog for U.S. News & World Report when she noticed her first post had been studded with sponsored hyperlinks.

McKenna, who is a member of AHCJ’s board of directors, outlines how she has brought her own “best practices” to blogging and outlines them. She also highlights several points from AHCJ’s statement of principles that specifically deal with issues medical and science writers face.

Of course, as some people at the meeting noted, not everyone who blogs is – or wants to be – a journalist. But many of them do see the need for standards and transparency, as science writer Ed Yong points out. Science journalist Dave Mosher, of Wired.com, also explores the topic.

Rules for journalists reporting on genetics

It appears that University of Minnesota biologist and blogger PZ Myers has finally seen a few too many “x gene linked to y condition” stories. He snapped, writing that “I just get so annoyed at this tendency for the media to focus on simplistic discrete causes that are split into a black & white nature or nurture false dichotomy.” He also felt compelled to write a few rules for journalists, as scientist-bloggers so often do.

Two of the four rules cover subjects which should be old hat for most AHCJ members, namely “understand science and causality” and “put news and numbers in context,” and it’s not until he focuses specifically on genetics that the list really shines.

For the first rule, he uses a story headlined “Male infertility gene discovered” as a teaching example. The emphasis is mine.

Do not describe genes by the disease they cause when broken. This is a gene that contributes to male fertility. There is no infertility gene. If a man has a missing, damaged, or mutant form of this fertility gene, he may have problems conceiving children.

And, for the final rule, he builds on the basic, well-trod ideas of causality and context to provide a framework for interpreting gene discovery stories.

Learn this simple principle: genes affect how your body responds to environmental factors. Finding an allele associated with a particular physiological state does not mean you have described a cause. We also need to know how that gene acts, what triggers a particular pattern of expression, and what the gene changes in the cell. There are forms of genes that only have deleterious (or advantageous) effects given certain conditions; that effect must be described as a consequence of both the gene and a certain background or environment.

Scienceblogs, and when bloggers attack

The Next Web’s Simon Owens tries to put the recent ScienceBlogs / PepsiCo quagmire into the larger context of the long, proud history bloggers have of biting the hand that feeds. He looks into the uneasy relationship bloggers have always had with those who advertise in their space, as well as the risks bloggers face in giving up control over ad placement by joining larger networks like ScienceBlogs. In the end, he implies, it’s really just another installment in the ongoing horse race between editorial independence and financial viability.

It has always been the accepted practice that there should be an unassailable wall between the editorial side of a publication and the advertising side, lest reporters be accused of bias for financial reasons. But the idea of bloggers attacking or commenting on their own advertising can also create an aura of independence. After all, what better way to prove you’re not beholden to the hand that feeds you than opening your mouth wide and clamping your incisors down on it. Whether that same hand will continue to feed you afterward is another issue entirely.