How to Start a Science Magazine

I recently co-founded a group called the Science Writers Association of Emory (SWAE). It was created out of an overwhelming interest in science journalism and medical writing among Emory graduate students.

We were lucky enough to get the support of our Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences as well as the Journalism Department.

With their support we decided to create (write, edit & publish) a science magazine that would provide Emory grad students the opportunity to showcase their science writing skills and build up their writing portfolios.

To date, we have organized an editorial team (I am editor-in-chief), identified a theme for our first edition and started soliciting writers.

It's been a very exciting journey so far and while I am confident in our ability to pull this off, it's still a bit-actually, VERY-scary.

Have we bitten off more than we can chew? Are we on the right track? I am very confident in our editorial team and believe we will succeed. I'll keep you all posted on our progress.

Any advice, information or tips are welcome.

More like this

Karen Ventii is one of my SciBlings - her blog is Science To Life. At the second Science Blogging Conference in January she co-moderated a panel on Gender and Race in Science: online and offline, relevant to the discussion of racial diversity that is ongoing here on Scienceblogs right now. Welcome…
Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science has an editorial (subscription required) in the April 18 edition entitled "Research Fraud and Public Policy". Here is some of it: Michael Bellesiles, of Emory University, supported the gun control case with a book called Arming America. Part of his…
(On July 16, 2009, I asked for volunteers with science degrees and non-academic jobs who would be willing to be interviewed about their careers paths, with the goal of providing young scientists with more information about career options beyond the pursuit of a tenure-track faculty job that is too…
I have yet to meet anyone who has read this book, myself included. But apparently some sciency blogger picked up a copy the other day and noticed a near absence of female scientists represented in the anthology. Why? Y, apparently. As you probably know, Richard Dawkins is presently being raked…

You might want to contact Jessica at scienceblogs.com/bioephemera/
She was involved in creating a similar journal:
http://sciencereview.berkeley.edu/
I suspect if you also contact the current editors there directly, they'd be glad to give some advice.

I was only tangentially involved in the first issue so I don't have much detailed advice. From what I saw, the most important thing is to get the writers and stories. At the beginning, this involved many emails to grad student lists soliciting proposals for research or opinion pieces.

Wow, I'm really impressed. I have a hard time getting up enough guts to submit my own freelance work to publishers, let alone starting up a magazine all on my own!

I'm interested in hearing more as you go along.

Dear dh,
Thanks for the wealth of information and advice-it's much appreciated :)

Check out ScienceLine (http://scienceline.org/) from the NYU science writing program. I'd bet that they'd be full of advice if you ask.

Magazines are a logistical nightmare, but you can do it. As counterintuitive as it might sound, the writing is usually actually the last part of running a magazine to consider. You'll need a page designer, an art manager, some photographer contacts (or at the very least, someone who can advise your reporters on how to get photo releases and permission rights for images) and a printer. If you're going to be funded by your university, you don't need to worry about advertising, but if not, you need to put together an ad staff. Then study current magazines. For the kind of thing you're considering, I'd suggest something like Science News. It's simple, basic, not too fancy. Look at the types of stories they cover, how much space they devote to what kinds of stories, etc. Think about how many features vs. news stories you want to have. Come up with all the various departments you would like your magazine to include. Now you're at the point to divvy up responsibilities. You'll need an editor-in-chief to manage the whole gig. That person honestly may not have that much time to write their own material, so keep that in mind. You'll need a managing editor to oversee workload and story ideas. You might consider department editors responsible for one (or a couple) of the departments. And it's often a good idea for reporters to develop beats, at least in a loose sense. It helps keep writers from stepping on each others' toes. Penultimately, develop a flow chart for editing responsibilities. This will include deadline guidelines, first editors, second editors, etc. For budding writers, it's a good idea to also get as much editing experience as possible. In my experience, I've seen that editing will improve your own writing exponentially. And then, finally, have a story meeting. Have people pitch their ideas, discuss them with each other, knock 'em around a bit, develop them. Assign stories and deadlines. Write. Have fun. :)

Good luck with this, Karen. I think the comments above will all help. Along the lines of Mike P's suggestions, a blog, bulleting board or closed discussion group could be useful in bouncing ideas around and circulating ideas. Back when I was helping found a science policy group, we found it very useful to have an electronic forum where we could build on each others' ideas and form collaborations. I would bet your university colleagues are used to such settings as part of course assignments; many might even blog already.

I wanted to add that I mostly agree with Mike P - especially about flow charts, deadlines, and editorial authority/control. You do essentially need everything at once and this involves a lot of early planning. There are ways to take short cuts. For example, if you aren't set on a printed magazine, publishing the first issue online decreases the need to for layout work and printers. You do need someone who is able to do a respectable web design, but that's still much cheaper than printing costs (assuming the university will host a website for free). If the journal will have a website anyway, then it is no additional work.

One advantage of recruiting writers beyond an internal staff is that, if people are presenting their own research or related research they can often get a good image or two without needing a photographer.

Thank you guy with this info! I am also in trying to develop my our science magazine in South Africa. I currently working for South Africa MRC as science writer.

By Mawethu Bilibana (not verified) on 21 Oct 2010 #permalink