This is more of a note than a fully evolved post, but it’s a good reminder of the value of preparation. I’m talking about the recent (very public) growing pains of Matter – a new, online outlet for publishing long-form, independent journalism that focuses on various aspects of science and/or technology.
I love the idea behind Matter, which published its first story this month, in large part because I love long-form articles when they’re done well. They are captivating.
However, it’s not enough to have a good idea. You have to execute.
In this case, that means that it’s not enough to have a good reporter doing good work and writing a good article. You need to be able to put that article into the hands of people who want to read it. Matter apparently plans to publish one article per month and, in order to be self-sustaining, charges a nominal fee ($0.99) for each of those articles. The customer then gets access to the material. No problem, right?
Not necessarily. At least one early customer has had a heck of a time accessing the debut article, and even more difficult time figuring out how to ask for help. That’s not good. And to make matters worse, that early customer was Paul Raeburn – a well-known, and well-regarded, figure in the science journalism community. Raeburn wrote about his troubles with Matter here. And, when customer service didn’t resolve the problem, he wrote about it again here.
If you didn’t click on those links, let me tell you where they go: to the Tracker blog of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT. If you’re a fledgling science journalism outlet, it’s not good to get bad press in an established outlet that is read almost exclusively by science journalists. (See my last post, on how to respond to mistakes.)
I hope Matter irons this out and goes on to become successful, because whether you call it “new journalism,” “online journalism” or simply, as I do, “journalism,” we can always use more of it (assuming it’s good). But there’s a lesson here for anyone involved in launching any science communication effort: be prepared.
Whether you’re planning a presentation or a new blog, you need to try to think of everything that can go wrong. You may not come up with a solution in advance, but at least you won’t be startled if it happens. And if you can’t think of everything (and no one can) make it easy for your readers/followers/audience/customers to ask you questions.
And if you are rolling out a new blog, Web site, etc., make sure to test drive it. Make sure it works the way you want it to work. Then get a friend to test drive it, preferably the least tech-savvy friend you have. You want to identify any rough spots before your audience does.