This week, I catch up with Guru magazine editor, Dr Stuart Farrimond…
So Stuart, What is Guru?
Broadly speaking, Guru is a concept. It’s about breaking down barriers between the scientific community and the general public. Despite huge advancements in technology; the development and growth of the internet (and the associated availability of information) – there continues to be a great disconnect between the science community and the ‘Joe Bloggs’ public.
Guru is more than about making science merely more accessible to a lay reader, it’s about making topics around science interesting and exciting. By its very nature, science is interesting to most people – the way our bodies work, what makes us tick, advancements in technologies, what goes in our food, etc. We all have a yearning to understand the world around us, but the way these facts are presented, more often than not, is laden with jargon and confusing terms. In fact many people find the word ‘science’ in itself a turn-off.
Guru is about redressing that balance – making these topics and issues engaging and understandable, delivering them with passion, to a reader who may never have considered the scientific angle on life before.
What inspired you to start the magazine?
A) Frustrations at how many areas of the traditional press (what might be termed ‘tabloids’) have grossly misrepresented scientific research and advancements. I often spend time with friends, family and co-workers dispelling some of the misleading messages given in the media about science. These are educated people, but the only means that they can access such information (in a way that is relevant to them) is through such tabloid reporting.
B) There is nothing out there at the moment like Guru. I like reading about science, psychology, nutrition and media (amongst other things) but I often find the likes of ‘New Scientist’, ‘Scientific American’ and other periodicals (all of which are excellent) rather heavy going at times. I often want something that is more easily palatable, but that doesn’t compromise the facts. Technology magazines often do this well, but are invariably targeted toward a particular male demographic (I find semi-naked women on a front cover of a gadget magazine rather patronising).
C) Recognising that there are a great number of very gifted and talented communicators – but whose material is not given an airing because of difficulties getting published in established newspapers, magazines and news sources. Journalism tends to be a very closed industry to outsiders and I wanted to be able to provide a means of giving people opportunity to publish their work to a wider audience – and get them the recognition they deserve.
D) Finally, as a medical doctor, I think communicating difficult ideas is in my blood. I now teach and lecture, and over the past two years teaching science to 16-19 year olds I have come to realise that even the most difficult and complex topics can be (with some creative thinking) made understandable and exciting.
Perhaps you could tell us a little about your blog?
I set up the blog (‘Dr Stu’s Blog’) last September as a bit of fun. I wrote about health and science-related subjects in a deliberately accessible way – the sorts of things I hoped my friends and work colleagues would enjoy reading about. My wife was home-schooled and never studied any science and she is my barometer – If I didn’t think she would understand a term or phrase – then it wouldn’t go in. It forces you to get quite creative at times: framing something in a new or interesting way, but whilst not compromising the facts.
I’ve been staggered by the popularity of the blog and it encouraged me to develop the Guru concept. It quickly became clear that there is an appetite for this kind of easy-to-understand science. As well as getting a healthy flow of internet traffic, I’ve been amazed by the doors the blog has opened – I have been contacted by the editor of Florida’s Tampa Tribune, who has asked to reprint two of my articles. The site has got several mentions on BBC Radio 5 Live’s science phone-in and I have even been approached by an independent film company to do some TV presenting!
What about the name ‘Guru’? How did that come about?
Many people are turned off by the word ‘science’. It has a lot of baggage for some people: uninspiring school lessons and stuffy academics. Times are changing, but let’s face it; science hasn’t become cool just yet.
We chose Guru because it is a word that doesn’t have science connotations. It implies ‘wise, learned one’, and it is short and snappy! We also decided to have a bit of fun with the word – turning it into a verb with the catchphrases “Do you Guru?” and “I Guru!”. We wanted Guru to be the name of the brand but also a name for the people involved – giving regular contributors the opportunity to become ‘Gurus’ in their own right.
On your website, you describe Guru as a ‘science lifestyle magazine’. What exactly does this mean?
We coined the term ‘science lifestyle’ to reflect that we are bridging a gap between popular science writing and lifestyle magazine journalism. It’s not intended to be academic, nor is it patronising – it is about communicating news, stories and ideas on a mature, but not-too-serious level. Three of us have founded Guru, I am the only one with a science background; we all wanted to encapsulate the idea that science can be relevant to every area of life.
So, you’ve decided that your magazine is going to be electronic only. Is print dead?
We certainly hope not! The three of us who set up Guru (the ‘editorial team’) all love reading magazines, newspapers and books (real ones): You can’t beat the experience of physically flipping through actual paper pages!
Market research shows that sales of physical media are declining but we don’t think print will ever completely die (at least not in our lifetime). For one thing, opinion surveys consistently show that there is a significant proportion of people who enjoy the experience of reading on paper over digital.
However, digital publishing offers many things that print can’t – namely increased interactivity and near instant availability. In an era where we are becoming increasingly environmentally-minded, digital publishing forgoes the negative impacts of printing and transportation.
The explosive growth of Smartphones, e-Readers and Tablet devices now makes reading digital publications easier than ever. Guru is designed to be the sort of thing you can download and read when on the train to work, or sitting in the garden – this is the sort of thing only digital publishing can do.
What are the advantages of an electronic magazine over a website?
People read magazines differently to how they read websites and blogs. It is uncommon for anyone to read more than about 300 words of a given web page before clicking on something else. A magazine offers a different reading experience: high quality content integrated with appealing graphic design and photography. We all treasure getting a good-quality magazine and will read them in a different way – savouring and digesting articles rather than scanning them.
Being an ‘electronic magazine’ however offers easy integration with the internet. Getting more information, video and audio on a particular article is only a tap away (all our articles have embedded links). If you want to discuss or debate something you’ve read, then Guru will offer the ability to go straight to a discussion page where you can make your views known.
You have decided to crowd source the content for your magazine. Has this presented any specific challenges?
It has certainly been interesting! We’ve had a lot of fun reading though the diverse range of submissions for Guru and there hasn’t been a shortage of people wanting to get involved. It’s been exciting to work with people from around the world: our ‘art guru’ is a professional artist in Washington DC and our ‘sceptic guru’ is a radio broadcaster from South Africa.
Getting the balance between selecting and editing content that delivers accuracy and readability is perhaps the biggest challenge. Although we’re delighted with the contributors we have selected, we’re always on the lookout for new talent.
We plan to start a Guru podcast shortly, and this will present new challenges: remotely organising and orchestrating a regular radio show will be no mean feat!
What are your hopes for Guru magazine one year from now? Where would you like it to be?
One year from now, we hope to have an established place in the digital publishing market. We have set out the Guru vision: a unique blend of entertainment and information – and hope that it will be enjoyed by an ever-increasing readership.
The Guru concept is starting as a magazine, but we have plans for it to make full use of new and emerging technologies. Podcasts, videos and apps are just some of the areas we would like to branch into. Accessibility and ease of use are crucial to what Guru is about; people like to consume media in different ways and we hope to able to cater for individual’s needs.
Guru is currently free, right? Will it remain free in the future?
Sadly, as with most things – producing Guru isn’t free. We will need to generate revenue to support and develop Guru. All ideas are still on the table and up for debate: advertising, sponsorship, donations and paid subscriptions. We will be exploring these avenues over coming months, and are open to suggestions!
Paying for quality content is not inherently bad – few people mind paying for something if it is worth it. We put a lot of time and effort developing Guru magazine to a standard that we feel is good enough to pay for. Guru will remain free to download for the time being and whichever route we take, we won’t jeopardise our core values of quality, trustworthiness and accessibility.
How often is Guru published?
At present the magazine is bi-monthly.
When’s the next issue out?
The next issue of Guru (issue ‘one’) is released on 1st August.
Where do I have to go to read it?
http://gurumagazine.org – there are a variety of formats available – designed for Tablets, e-Readers, PC and Smartphones. There is also a printer-friendly version for those preferring a hard copy. Also look out for us in the Amazon Magazine section in the coming months!
And finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, we are always on the lookout for writers, but are particularly interested in hearing from anyone with photography, programming or web design experience who wants to get involved with Guru!
People can contact us through the website or via firstname.lastname@example.org