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June 5, 2009
Live-Blogging A Conference: Trouble?
There’s a report over at Genetic Future of some problems stemming from blogging a scientific meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. The organizers have a rule that reporters have to obtain permission from speakers before writing up a story on any given presentation, but no one thought about whether this covered bloggers. This caused a dispute between the blog's owner, the conference organizers, and Genomeweb about what was going on, and whose rules applied to whom.
This is a particular case of the larger blogs-versus-journalism question. I think it’s being resolved the right way: Cold Spring Harbor Labs will apply the same rules to people blogging, tweeting, or what have you as apply to people writing up stories for more conventional outlets. That makes sense to me, because in each case, there's a report for public consumption on what’s being presented. What sort of medium it appears on (newsprint, glossy paper, or pixels) shouldn’t matter. Neither, actually, should the issue of whether the piece will earn the writer any money or whether that's the writer's full-time job.
In any of these cases, the writer has an obligation to present an accurate report, of course. That’s one factor where science journalism (be it amateur or pro) has a potential edge on, say, politics. In the end, science isn’t (or shouldn’t be) so much a matter of opinion, of who yells the loudest or who has the most persuasive speaking style. The ideas and the data should speak for themselves, and conference reporting should, ideally, help them to do so.
I think that conference organizers should first be aware that people could be live-blogging. But after that, I think that they should be encouraging it. Information, as they say, wants to be free. And scientific meetings are one of the ways that it takes wing.
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