The quarterly ‘news’

17Jan10

What makes news news? You’d have thought this was fairly simple, but two projects have had me wondering what makes proper news these days.

Wellcome News, the Trust’s main magazine, is published quarterly and every few months I’m tasked with writing the copy. Because of the nature of print deadlines (usually a couple of months before the actual publication date to allow for copyediting, proofreading, design and printing) this often involves writing about things that have yet to happen, meaning that at the time of writing there isn’t much to say about it. This also means that by the time the audience reads about it, the ‘news’ often took place months before.

Meanwhile, as the News Editor of TSR, it’s my job to deliver news articles for the newsletter’s quarterly issue — ‘news’ that more often than not happened months before (do you see a pattern here?). We usually try and do some kind of ‘overview’ or analyses, rounding up the coverage of a particularly big science journalism/communication issue, but really, in the world of 24 hour, real-time information, who wants to read about stuff that already appeared everywhere months ago?

So what makes news news? According to my Mac’s dictionary it is:

newly received or noteworthy information, esp. about recent or important events.

But what if your publication schedule negates the latter half of this, which could also negate the former part? It’s a real dilemma for publications that only appear four times a year (or, for that matter, those that appear monthly). On the one hand, it’s nice to have a News section, but how newsworthy are the things that one can deliver on a quarterly publication schedule? This may not make such a difference if your subject is so niche that news is hard to find, but, again, is there such a dearth of information in the internet-age?

At the ABSW, we’re trying to rectify this by moving to a more rolling news service. With the sparkling new ABSW website up and running and the neglected ABSW blog integrated into it, I’ve been tasked with merging the TSR News with the website’s news. We’ll deliver news stories as and when they happen and then include the more relevant ones in the next issue of TSR, just in case anyone missed them, alongside more analytical takes on stories that warrant it.

This is a real opportunity for us to provide a more timely service to our members, and a chance for our eager team of writers to contribute more (one of the strange things about the blog was there were few people with the time and inclination to contribute, but we have a decent number of people willing to write for TSR).

Of course, this could also mean more work. A rolling news service means that there are no once-every-four-months deadlines and instead a continual stream of writing, editing and posting. On the other hand, it could spread things out a bit more, so I don’t end up with two weeks of commissioning/emailing stress, followed by two weeks of editing hell every four months — not to mention the desperate scramble around for stories from the previous months that might make ‘news’. How will it work out? We’ll see.

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