- Field Notes
Bioethics in the blogosphere. There is important news, and then there is important news that grabs hold of people and gets them thinking and talking: “Did you see the piece on . . . ?” “What do you think?” “What would you do?” That kind of news often has to do with bioethics.
The desire to capture diverse perspectives on bioethical issues of the day led The Hastings Center to launch Bioethics Forum nearly five years ago. Greg Kaebnick, editor of the Hastings Center Report, conceived of it as an online adjunct to the Report. Commentaries that would take at least a month to work their way through the Report’s production cycle could be posted immediately on Bioethics Forum. And the Forum might broaden our editorial tent, pulling in journalists, policy-makers, and the general public, along with the scholars, clinicians, and lawyers who were the Report’s regular readers.
At first, Bioethics Forum was as controversial as some of the topics it covered. On the one hand, The Hastings Center wanted to engage the wider community, but on the other hand, there was trepidation about what that engagement might bring—uncivil discourse, personal agendas, and so on. A few people here thought it would lower the Center’s standards because online publishing was considered inferior to print. To head off these concerns, a ground rule was established. The Forum would not be a repository of unfiltered riffs written by just anyone. It would publish essays only after they had been approved and edited.
The first Bioethics Forum piece addressed the trepidation. On March 3, 2006, Tod Chambers wrote about his experience searching for an article he had read on the Internet, only to get the message, “File not found.” “This ephemeral quality of the Internet may be why, at least for now, I do not find an online academic journal as authentic or scholarly as I do a paper journal that has a virtual twin of itself online,” he wrote.
Needless to say, a lot has changed. People are now less likely to wonder whether online publications are inferior to print than to speculate about when print publications will go exclusively online. There are so many high-quality electronic periodicals that the Pulitzer Prize committee opened its doors to them in 2009 and made its first awards to them this year.
Bioethics Forum has also changed. Our pieces have become more journalistic and in some cases investigative. While many of our original contributors are still with us, we also have many new voices. And the Forum is hooked into still newer forms of media. One fine writer recently came to us via Twitter.
These changes present editorial challenges. With new writers and more muckraking, we have raised the bar on accountability. Statements must be supported by sources. In general, there are more hyperlinks in today’s commentaries than in the earlier ones. In our investigative pieces, we labor over the line between exposing ethical wrongdoing and singling out individuals. And although ours is far from a twenty-four/seven news cycle, we have pressures common to online news outlets (the responsible ones, anyway): balancing the urgency to publish a time-sensitive piece quickly with the necessity of journalistic due diligence.
Reading through Bioethics Forum is like opening a time capsule on some of the biggest bioethics news developments of recent years and what people thought and said about them. I look forward to what tomorrow will bring. [End Page c3]