Get your geek on is like the smart-aleck in the back of the class. It’s sharp and saavy, and it’s not afraid to crack a sex joke about dinosaurs. For that, the irreverent 3-year-old science and technology news site took home a 2007 Online Journalism Award in the Specialty Journalism (large sites) category, beating out and

LiveScience “did a good job of keeping an often static subject fresh and new and you really had a sense they are on top of it,” according to the ONA press release. The judges also lauded the site’s “top-notch use of multimedia” and mix of user and expert voices on a topic that “can get static and old very quickly,” according to Ruth Gersh, co-chair of the 2007 awards.

What’s their secret? OJR chatted on the phone with Anthony Duignan-Cabrera, Editorial Director of Consumer Media at LiveScience’s parent company, Imaginova, to find out. An edited transcript follows.

OJR: What do you do at LiveScience?

Duignan-Cabrera: I oversee what types of stories we’re using, and if we can bring new partners. I’ve been with Imaginova for eight years. It’d been launched as, and I’d always been interested in space.

OJR: What’s LiveScience’s mission?

Duignan-Cabrera: We make science not boring. We think science news should be relevant, funny and engaging. The reader should come to the site and leave smarter after five minutes.

OJR: How are you better than your competitors?

Duignan-Cabrera: Our competitors – the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, and other mainstream organizations that reach a broad audience – their news has a lack of irreverence and that “gee whiz” factor. Some of the things they cover are obscure for the public. We want readers to think: I should care about that – whether it be global climate change or how things work in the workplace.

OJR: Can you give some specific examples of how you respond to your readers?

Duignan-Cabrera: We looked at what science stories are very popular among our competitive set as well as at general subjects that are hot right now. We tweak our coverage and watch where our traffic goes.

Last year, we gave our site a major redesign, which took six to eight months. We made accessing our stories easier, especially the top 10 lists and image galleries. We’re expanding how our reporters use our blogs. We increased our environmental coverage, because we realized there was an interest. We always pay attention to how people are going through the site. We track the stories and how the users use the stories they read to go through our site.

OJR: What’s your advice to journalists trying to improve their sites?

Duignan-Cabrera: Pick a concept, and then observe what your users like and what your competitors are not doing. If there’s a need, fill it. If the readers want more of something, give it to them. Depending on the topic, they might want more pictures or video.

We make fun of things that are dry. We have them take quizzes. We cover the top 10 ancient capitals of the world, taboos, and myths about sex.

OJR: I recently covered a panel discussion at Annenberg that featured scientists and science journalists, and there was a lot of talk about how inadequate science reporting is in general. Some people blame on the public being science-illiterate. What are your views on the state of science journalism?

Duignan-Cabrera: The scientist, the academics that live in their ivory towers depend on public funding, and the only way to get support is to engage the public. That aside, not everyone’s an astrophysicist, and there’s a way of explaining the coolness of it that entertains as well as educates. Learning should be fun, not funny or goofy, or exploitative. It shouldn’t be like cod liver oil! It should be “neat” and “cool” and all those different adjectives.

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About Jean Yung

Hi there, I am a Master's student in Print Journalism at USC Annenberg.

After seven sublimely bone-chilling, atom-stopping years in Chicago (as an undergrad at the University of Chicago and a business consultant for Deloitte), I can truly appreciate LA's tedious sunshine!