RSC - Advancing the Chemical Sciences


Chemistry World

 

Editorial: Feeling the crunch


We knew it was coming. We all have a friend, or if we are lucky a friend of a friend, who has lost their job as a consequence of the current economic climate. We have all heard of bankruptcies or, in the best case scenario, the cost-cutting measures that many a company or department have had to implement to remain operational - and the chemical industry has certainly not escaped the downturn. But the latest sector to feel the recession is the world of publishing and journalism. The print media industry has seen a number of high-profile casualties - and science journalism in particular has finally started to succumb to the difficult financial landscape. 

In Europe we hear reports of German newspapers considering staff cuts, and declining circulations causing problems in France. In the US, journalism has reached a level of crisis. Detroit's loss of its daily newspaper was closely followed by the closure of another in Seattle. And the San Francisco Chronicle  and Philadelphia Inquirer  are both under threat.  

While science coverage may have been scaled back in many broadcast outlets, science journalists have fared relatively well. However, in the last few weeks, the American Chemical Society's Chemical & Engineering News  (C&EN) and Macmillan's Scientific American, both very prestigious and well-established titles, have seen their teams affected by serious job cuts and a management restructure, respectively.  

In the case of C&EN  the current financial situation has forced ACS to reduce its workforce by 3 per cent, which resulted in the loss of 19 members of the team. Four reporters, one production editor, one designer, two members of the online team and one support staff have been made redundant and the Journal News and Community Department has virtually been eliminated (only three of the original 13-strong team remain in their posts). 

Have staff at Scientific American  been luckier? Not really. As a result of the magazine's integration into the Nature Publishing Group (which now has complete control of the magazine), a 5 per cent reduction in the Group's overall workforce has been announced. In this case, the jobs come mainly from the production, services and administration teams but, as a consequence of the transition, both the editor-in-chief and the president have decided to step down. In any case, the fact remains that one of the oldest science publications in the US has had to be rescued from financial disaster. 

We knew it was coming but we were not ready for it. Nobody relishes somebody else's failures or struggles, even if it is a competitor. All scientific publications share a common aim - to provide high quality content - and a common challenge: to secure ad revenue. This is, in most cases, essential for survival and with this income dwindling as a consequence of the economic downturn, it is inevitable that many publications will face extinction. Some, perhaps unfairly, call it evolution. Many suggest that this trend is set to continue: to add to the dire financial situation, the overall quality of editorial has been dropping in favour of more glitzy content. And new technologies look set to supplant traditional media. The future for traditional science journalism looks bleak. 

And how will this affect science, researchers and the public? Well, job cuts in science journalism mean that the quality of science reporting may be seriously compromised, affecting the efficiency and accuracy of the way in which science, and specifically chemistry, is communicated to the readership - be that the general public or a more specialist research community. This is clearly undesirable, and we can only hope that the publishing industry and the teams involved are strong enough to weather this particular storm. 
Bibiana Campos-Seijo, editor