Earth horizon
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The Guardian has announced a new network of bloggers for its environment section. Based on the same model as the its science blog, ten writers from around the world are given free reign in the site to do as they please.

"They're basically given the keys to the Guardian website," said the Guardian's science and environment news editor, James Randerson, speaking to Journalism.co.uk.

"They're able to publish direct to the website without editorial involvement and they're not desked or subbed as such. They're sort of an arm's length team so we're in contact with them and suggesting topics but they can basically do their own thing."

Letting bloggers loose inside the website of a major international news organisation may seem risky, but Randerson "trawled" through more than 800 applications with Adam Vaughan, editor of environmentguardian.co.uk, in order to find the best writers for the job.

Much as with the network of science bloggers, the environment blog network incorporates experts in their field to offer specialist knowledge in specific areas. John Abraham, for example, is a professor of thermal sciences and is on hand to discuss climate change. Elsewhere, blogs are authored by campaigners or scholars or, in one case, the chief executive of a wildlife NGO.

"So when we're covering a big environment event in the normal way through the normal journalistic channels," continued Randerson, "they could augment that and supplement that with information and opinion and comment and analysis around the edge of that.

"There are some stories that we just wouldn't be able to cover with the number of people and resources that we have," he said, "so having more specialist bloggers who can get into areas that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to adds to the richness of coverage on the site and allows us to provide quite an impressive offering for people who are really interested in this area."

It gives us a real opportunity to broaden and deepen our coverageJames Randerson, science and environment news editor, the Guardian
And unlike in some other models these bloggers are paid, receiving a percentage of the advertising revenue that their post generates.

"Do I think it's a good thing for news organisations? And is this going to be the future? I think so, yes," he said. "It provides real benefits, in this case it is giving us an ability to go into greater depth on topics and broaden our coverage in a way that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise."

Randerson was keen to point out, however, that this was not a substitute for journalists "doing investigations and writing copy and it being edited", but rather offering a different voice and a different level of detail that may be more attractive to some readers.

"If one took it to its logical extreme and the Guardian was left with just people editing and copy coming in from outside without any control then it would be a very different kind of organisation so that is not the logical destination for all of this.

"But what it does do is it gives us a real opportunity to broaden and deepen our coverage. It's all about picking people who are good quality and have something really unique to offer."

Jon Butterworth, a physics professor who has worked at CERN, writes for the science blog but not "in the way a journalist would", offering expert commentary which can appeal to readers who may already be familiar with a subject and don't feel drawn towards basic science reporting for a general audience.

"There's a kind of antipathy to mainstream media among some people who want more depth and don't like the way that journalists have to pitch things at a level that lots of people will understand.

"Having people that are prepared to go into a bit more depth is attractive to some people."

The subject of relationships between news outlets and external writers has been a hot topic in the industry of late, with Jeff Jarvis urging editors to "do what you do best and link to the rest". But Randerson believes the Guardian's method may be surpassing that.

"We're kind of going one better than linking in a way," he said. "we're co-opting the rest, or at least trying to co-opt people who we think will provide something good quality and unique and therefore will be desirable to have on the site."

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