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Geoscientist: A new chapter

The editorial team expands on the reasoning behind Geoscientist’s recent evolution

Amy Whitchurch
Words by Amy Whitchurch
1 March 2021
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Geoscientist has begun a new chapter. A more sizeable issue of the strikingly redesigned print magazine will now arrive on your doorstep every quarter, rather than each month, and the new fresh and functional Geoscientist website has been launched.

Understandably, some Fellows have mixed feelings about this transition, and this post aims to clarify our reasoning beyond the explanations outlined in the Spring 2021 and previous issues of Geoscientist.

We hope that together the redesigned print magazine and new website will serve the full spectrum of Fellows.

Digital acceleration

The way the geoscientific community interacts and accesses information is changing. People expect to easily access and regularly engage with a variety of content online, in addition to or instead of print. Indeed, digital is now the first choice for many people and the Coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the demand for online access.

Yet, the 2017 Geoscientist Readership Survey results showed that few Fellows accessed Geoscientist content digitally, in part because of the poor functionality and out-dated nature of our previous website. Additionally, one of the key recommendations from the Society’s recent Strategic Options Review Project—a project aimed at identifying ways to strengthen the Society against falling membership numbers and declining student uptake in the Earth sciences—was “to become a dynamic and responsive organisation with a strong digital identity”. Our new website helps meets this objective.

Design refresh

Another upshot of the 2017 Geoscientist Readership Survey was the need to modernise the design of the printed magazine, which many Fellows viewed as cluttered and out-dated. The Strategic Options Review Project also highlighted the importance of a strong visual brand and identity.

The contract with our previous publishers, ended in December 2020, so the time was right to think about how we could communicate afresh, both in print and digitally, and use the redesign of Geoscientist magazine and the website to help convey the relevance of our field.

Increased engagement

Most of us are painfully aware that our field is facing something of a crisis. The number of students enrolling in geoscience courses is declining globally, due in part to a view that our subject is dirty and polluting, rather than a key player in the journey towards net zero and environmental stewardship, based on an increased understanding of the Earth.

Geological Society membership numbers are decreasing too, and have been since 2017, with the Strategic Options Review Project identifying as one potential barrier the perception of a Society that hasn’t kept up-to-date with emerging trends in the Earth sciences, and that has a reputation for traditionalism and exclusivity.

We believe that by focusing our efforts on both print and digital, we can widen our reach and can place Geoscientist magazine into the hands of readers who may not have found us before. In particular, with a shift towards digital, we can connect and communicate in a greater variety of ways, including through video and audio content, thereby reaching and engaging new, more diverse audiences.

Timeliness

We appreciate that quarterly magazine distribution will affect the speed at which we can communicate news and topical discussion in print. By increasing the online delivery of content, we can provide rapid and frequent news updates, as well as allow more opportunities for timely contributions from Fellows and others. We will continue to publish a selection of the most important and topical news and opinion pieces in every print issue.

Reader options

The 2017 Geoscientist Readership Survey showed that the print version of the magazine is a cherished membership benefit and the preferred format for most Fellows. It’s also an essential communication tool—it is the only direct channel of communication between the Society and some Fellows.

On the other hand, many have written to us asking to opt out of print and Fellows now have the option to do this when they renew. You are also free to opt out of print at any time by emailing membership@geolsoc.org.uk

Environmental sustainability

From an environmental standpoint, we cannot justify printing and posting ~12,000 copies of Geoscientist magazine every month. Instead, we want to channel our efforts into the creation of a less-frequently distributed, high-quality magazine that focuses on in-depth science, with the intention that Fellows would be more likely to keep it for some time—returning to the content and issues covered, rather than recycling the magazine almost immediately.

Resources

The Society faces challenging times. The decision to move to quarterly print distribution with an enhanced online presence reflects both costs and the best use of the time of the editors and others producing Geoscientist.

Consulting the Fellowship

The Society aims to consult with and solicit input from Fellows at every reasonable opportunity. In this instance, we debated surveying the Fellowship to solicit views on the preferred frequency of print distribution for Geoscientist. However, it was already clear that opinion was divided: some Fellows are wedded to print, some prefer digital, and others a mixture of both.

Additionally, we felt it would have been disingenuous to solicit Fellows’ views only to discard them because of the unavoidable financial constraints. And therefore, in the light of the 2017 Geoscientist Readership Survey and Council’s Strategic Options Review, we set out a variety of options for the production of Geoscientist that were assessed by the Finance and Planning Committee and presented to Council, who voted for an enhanced online presence and quarterly publication as the option that best served the Fellowship.

 

Overall, in making changes to Geoscientist, in print and online, and by offering a range of options to access the content, we aim: to produce Geoscientist at the best value to the Society; to cater to the broad needs of Fellows and the geoscience community; and to present news and debate in exciting, varied and timely ways.

 

Amy Whitchurch (Editor), Sarah Day (Editor), Andy Fleet (Editor-in-Chief), David Shilston (Deputy Editor-in-Chief)

 

For more information on the Strategic Options Review, please see the News item Looking to the Future: The Society’s Strategic Options Review

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