“Every really good creative person…whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested…Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.”–James Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas (1939)
The problem, however, is that readers don’t want to follow the meanderings of a browsing mind – they want the final outcome. My interests include:
- hydroecological science
- academic culture
- the human place in landscape & connection with nature (through activities such as hunting and local food production)
- writing and editing – particularly science communication, and
- linkages between science and policy.
In November of last year, Bora Zivkovic posted an article that generated a lot of discussion on Facebook and the SciAm blog network. He said that people read blogs because they’re looking for an expert opinion. Defining expertise is tricky, and made up of equal parts hubris and fact. But I can honestly say that I’m only an expert in two of the topics listed above: hydroecological science, and writing & editing. Although I’ve posted about other topics (and generated an avalanche of response), my blog would be enhanced by focusing mainly on my specific expertise and related topics (e.g., conservation & management, policy in this field). It’s not as though I’ll never say another word about scicomm or scipolicy. It’s more that these topics will serve as footnotes in posts focused on ecohydrology.
Now I’m not just doing this because ‘Bora said so’. When I started Watershed Moments in January 2012, I had little knowledge of what blogging entailed other than writing about what you were interested in and hoping people would read it. After joining Twitter and learning a lot more about science and social media, the do’s and don’ts of blogging, and other communication tips, I realize there are so many more ways that I can use this blog. The biggest hurdle? Having a goal. I didn’t have one when I started (obviously!). Even when I wrote my last post, I was struggling with defining a goal.
A few things happened recently that really helped clarify my whole ‘blogging problem’. First was a call from the Guardian for environment bloggers, particularly from Canada. The second was being listed by the Canadian Science Writer’s Association (CSWA) in their ‘Member Blogs‘ section. The third was when that CSWA list made it into Maryse de la Giroday’s (@Frogheart) annual Canadian science blog roundup. Things were getting serious – and that meant I had to, as well.
The Guardian application asked questions that forced me to really think about the purpose of Watershed Moments. “What would your blog be called?” and “What subjects would it cover?” were relatively straightforward, but more difficult was: “Give us a one-line summary of your blog idea”. A one-line summary? For a blog that’s covered such a broad range of subjects? What about “How would you deem your blog to be successful?” Once again I had to consider why I was blogging and what I wanted from the whole exercise.
I realized I had to get smart about this whole blogging thing. But getting smart didn’t mean abandoning everything I was interested in. So I’m reworking this blog to focus on my expertise, but still incorporate some sub-topics in passing.
My ‘one-line summary’? The relevance of healthy and functioning hydroecological systems in Canada’s west to our well-being and future.
What does this mean in action? Posts will provide context and share analysis of environmental science news, events, books, and articles on water and related ecological issues. These will be linked to outdoor pursuits and conservation efforts to engage the reader.
The subjects I plan to cover are hydrology (streams, glaciers), ecology (forests, mountains, prairie), and conservation & management. All from a western Canadian perspective, which narrows things down nicely.
As for the success of my blog – it helped that I stumbled across a thought-provoking article by Justine Musk. It made me realize that success means extending and expanding the community I have on Twitter, and the interesting conversations I have there with @rivrchik, @highlyanne, @msanclem, @LM_Campbell, @LB_CopyEditor, @WaterPuppetry, @alisonborealis, @theburntcity, @cbdawson and so many more. I want to write posts that people are interested enough in to comment on, share with colleagues and friends, write responses to on their own blogs, and provide ideas of things I may want to cover in future posts. As currently written, my blog is just a patchwork of vaguely related posts that interest a few of the people 1/4 of the time. And that’s not going to help build a community!
Those of you who know me also know that I’ve been on medical leave for a while and unable to work. Blogging and tweeting help keep me up to speed on science news on my own terms and my own schedule, so that I don’t compromise my recovery. Maintaining these connections is another goal of this blog.
Over the next few months I also plan to deal with some technical issues. A range of articles from Jane Friedman, Resource Nation, Chris Buddle, Lab Guru and others helped me identify these issues. They include switching to WordPress for a cleaner and more professional look, and integrating my Twitter, blog and email accounts under the same name. I’ll also be developing a new website that incorporates these various social media platforms. Each blog post will eventually be tagged to make them easier to search, and I plan to include references that will allow me to list articles on Research Blogging. I also plan to include more photos (still working on that one), and to highlight key points more clearly (as I’ve attempted in this post – not sure if it’s working or just presents an annoying change in font!).
A few examples of blogs I admire – some for layout as well as content – include:
I’m looking forward to a new year of new blogging focus and sharing ideas with a broader community. The idea is to post weekly, as my health permits. Happy New Year everyone!