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11Dec 2012

National Geographic announces its Phenomena blog network (with an all-star cast)

The Pleiades/ NASA.gov

National Geographic announced today that it will be launching a new science blog network, titled Phenomena, featuring four high-octane science bloggers  - Virginia Hughes (Only Human), Brian Switek (Laelaps), Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science) and Carl Zimmer (The Loom).

The new network, assembled by the magazine's executive editor for science, Jamie Shreeve, is scheduled to debut on Tuesday, December 18.  It represents National Geographic's first serious move into the increasingly high-profile world of science blogging. (Although National Geographic acquired the old Scienceblogs network in 2011, it never showed any real enthusiasm for it).

But thanks to the quality of its debut bloggers, this new network, although small,  represents a move with real power behind it.

The Phenomena-four were recruited from well-established blog networks;  Zimmer and Yong from Discover, Switek from Wired, and Hughes from the stylish community at Last Word on Nothing. As she notes in her farewell post , the move will allow her to establish her own blog rather than being part of a communal one but she valued the ways that her time at LWON had enabled her to grow as a writer: "My voice matured, maybe, and word counts swelled, definitely."

Switek posted his farewell in late November, before the official National Geographic announcement was made. So the post only notes - as part of a rumination on his life as a blogger focused on paleontology -  that he's leaving the blog network (and also retiring a dinosaur blog at Smithsonian) to go to an undisclosed location. Wired, at least, took that seriously - the Laelaps blog can no longer be found on the science blog network homepage.  (Disclosure: I'm a blogger in this network).

But Zimmer's farewell note "The Loom Weaves Onward" and Yong's "I'm moving my blog to National Geographic next week, and look who's coming too" can both be found at the Discover website.

Although Discover's established bloggers had complained  about glitches that followed a recent redesign of the Discover site, Yong made a point of saying that had not been a factor in his decision to move:

For the record, this move has been in the making for a couple of months, and isn’t a reaction to Discover’s redesign. Discover have been tremendously good to me during my tenure here, and it’s been a joy to blog alongside Phil, Sean, Carl, Razib, Sheril, Chris, Nikki, Val, and others. I’m very grateful to all of them, and to our former web overlord Amos Zeeberg, for their support.

Still these moves also signal a rather dramatic reshaping of the blogging landscape at Discover, following the decision by the magazine's new owner, Kalmbach Publishing, to move its headquarters from New York to the company's homebase in Waukesha, Wisconsin. As Paul Raeburn noted here at Tracker, questions about the future of Discover's network started circulating almost as soon as the move was announced in August.

Since then, four of the magazine's better known bloggers have relocated, including Zimmer and Yong. The first was Phil Plait, who moved his Bad Astronomer blog to Slate in November. He was followed by best-selling author and physicist Sean Carroll, who announced  last week that he'd decided to return to life as an independent blogger.

But Discover is also moving to bring onboard some younger, rising-star quality bloggers, such as Keith Kloor, who announced a couple days ago that he's moving his excellent blog, Collide-a-Scape to the magazine's network. UPDATE: There's a nicely done review of these moves also by Curtis Brainard at Columbia Journalism Review, which also tags Kloor as a blogger to watch.

In other words, in these winds of change, there's a lot positive news to be found.  The creation of a new and, I suspect, influential science blog network is one to welcome. And the rearrangment at Discover - or so I sincerely hope - may continue to mean new opportunities for some very talented writers on their way up. We at the Tracker look forward to following these developments and wish all success in their new endeavours.

                                                                                                                                                                                                       -- Deborah Blum

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