Last month, the first publication from the project I am working on studying moss banks along the Antarctic Peninsula (see project website here) was published in the journal Current Biology. This was a reasonably big deal for me as it was the first time that a paper with my name on it had made it into a ‘high impact’ journal; one that statistically gets more attention than most. The whole experience of publishing this paper was indeed very different from the norm that I am used to in other journals. For a start, we were assigned a personal copy editor who went through our paper with a fine toothcomb, sending large amounts of correspondence back and forth until every last sentence read perfectly and every last bit of punctuation was in precisely the right spot! We then learned that the publisher, Cell Press, had selected our article as one that would be highlighted through a press release. We’d also written a press release that was released through the British Antarctic Survey, for whom several of our collaborators work.
So on the day the paper was released we waited to see what the level of press interest might be, having little idea what to expect. This was August, AKA ‘Silly Season‘ in journalism, when quiet news months mean we might have stood more chance of some mainstream coverage, but equally, the Syria conflict (or lack of it) had recently overtaken the news agenda.
Eventually however, a request came in from the website Livescience.com for an interview with Jessica Royles, the first-named author on the paper. This was followed by a further request for a radio interview with Voice of America, who later went on to distribute their story to partner broadcasters in 45 different languages. From here, the amount of news articles on the internet about our paper started to bloom as some stories were shared between different sites and many sites wrote stories from the press release without contacting us directly. At the time of writing, news stories number over 20. You can find links on the project website if you would like to have a read!
It was unusual to say the least, but at the same time immensely satisfying, to feel that our work was reaching a much wider audience. Statistics collated by the publisher show that we’ve reached a Twitter audience of over 40,000 in addition to all the Tweets and Facebook shares on the individual articles. I think it would be fair to say that the ‘today’s news, tomorrow’s chip paper’ analogy needs updating to the internet age, but it was also interesting to see that some of the articles, Tweets and posts did result in further discussion in threads underneath a couple of the articles. Due to the words ‘climate change’ in a lot of the article titles, these threads weren’t always complementary and may have been inhabited by trolls seeking to cast doubt on any climate science. However, these were a minority and the thought that a huge number of people now know more about Antarctic moss than they did previously (perhaps even that it grows there at all!) is very satisfying.
Royles, J., Amesbury, M. J., Convey, P., Griffiths, H., Hodgson, D. A., Leng, M. J. and Charman, D. J. 2013. Plants and soil microbes respond to recent warming on the Antarctic Peninsula. Current Biology 23, 1702-1706.