Mosaic’s Content Strategy: Part 3 — Content model

This week we’ve outlined the background research that went into planning Mosaic and the vision and values we hope to achieve. In my last post on Mosaic's content strategy, I’ll go into a little more detail on what it is we’re actually going to make.

“This is the kind of commitment we have to storytelling: being in-depth in a world of tiny little bites of information.”

- John Dickerson, Slate journalist, on Slate’s long-form ‘Fresca’ initiative.

All Mosaic content shares the same goal: exploring a subject in-depth from different angles and explaining the facets of it in detail with a strong, thought-provoking narrative.

Each Mosaic feature will be a self-contained, standalone story on a specific topic. Rather than fit a story to a particular style or medium, we will pick the story first, then decide the form that best suits it.

The majority of lead features will be written articles, with a smaller proportion film.

We will also develop wider, related content around the lead features. This 'Extra' content will span the editorial process and give our users a number of different ways to approach the feature. It will also open up the editorial process to our users, and give them varied opportunities to engage with us. This might include curated social media comments, ‘How I did that’ blog posts from content creators, live Q&A sessions with content creators or interviewees, overmatter (e.g. full transcripts, audio, video clips) or tangential stories that didn’t make it into the main feature but might be interesting nonetheless (we imagine these like “DVD extras”, hence the working title. More on this in a future post).

Topics within scope

Mosaic will feature stories from biology, medicine and the medical humanities, though we may touch on physical sciences and chemistry where related to biology. Topics we're considering so far include:

  • Genetics and genomics
  • The brain (neuroscience, mental health etc.)
  • Infectious diseases
  • Development, ageing and chronic disease
  • Environment, nutrition and health
  • Basic science
  • Clinical medicine
  • Public health
  • Technology transfer and translational medicine
  • Science/medical/health policy
  • International development (related to science and medicine)
  • Medical history/history of science
  • Ethical, social and cultural aspects of science and medicine

Content types

Writing

Where once it was thought that people would not read long online copy, the development of portable digital devices (laptops, netbooks, smartphones, tablets, e-readers) and ‘read later’ services such as Instapaper, Readability and Pocket has circumvented this, allowing users to take web content wherever they want and read comfortably away from the desktop. Many well-known publications have taken the opportunity of digital to loosen up on the length of features and even actively promote their online ‘long-read’ content. In 2008, Slate set up an initiative to enable its writers to pursue long-form journalism.

Chrissie’s posted already about what long-form means to us. The showpiece of Mosaic is its in-depth writing. The bulk of our content will be these types of narrtiave-based written articles, though there are other types of article that we will explore (long Q&A interviews, for example, such as those featured in the Paris Review). There are also many different ways of approaching narrative structure, and it will be largely left to the writer to choose which is most suitable for their story. We will place great emphasis on the style and voice of our writers, encouraging them to indulge their natural curiosity and passion and bring this to their work.

Our content will be produced by a combination of in-house writers and freelancers. We aim to become a major outlet for such content that the best writers look to pitch to. However, the best writing does not necessarily mean the most established writers. We also want to nurture emerging talent.

We envisage most of our articles to be 3000-5000 words. Whatever the length, reporting for long-form articles require significant time and resources - for the writer, editor and publisher. Many publishers have identified this risk as one of the major obstacles to long-form content in the digital age. But it is also an opportunity for us.

Film

Film is one of the most popular forms of content on the web and one of the most effective ways of engaging an audience with a subject. Over 800 million unique users visit YouTube each month, with over 4 billion hours of video watched each month, and this is expected to expand as the mobile market and bandwidth grows -- YouTube has 600 million mobile views daily and growing fast with an estimated 350 million devices enabled for YouTube (including phones, tablets, games consoles, smart TVs, etc).

There has been an explosion in the popularity and production of science films for the web over the last 5 years, ostensibly thanks to services such as YouTube and Vimeo that allow users to easily upload, share and embed high-quality video to the web for free. Almost every scientific publication or organisation/institution is now producing video, including Nature, New Scientist and the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

The Wellcome Trust has been making films for over 4 years, most of which are short 3-5 min videos for our YouTube channels. Several serve as interesting, if brief, explainers of scientific concepts, such as fMRI and techniques to prevent mitochondrial disease. In the last 2 years we have also begun exploring longer, 30 min thematic films. We aim to experiment more with this, with original Mosaic films produced in-house.

Mun-Keat Looi

Mun-Keat is one of Mosaic’s Commissioning Editors and a Senior Editor at the Wellcome Trust.