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Editorial: A new home for C&EN in the ACS Publications Division

by Michael McCoy
February 26, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 7


Magazines like C&EN that are published by professional societies are unique and awkward beasts. They were created to provide members of the society with news about their profession and the society itself. Today, thanks to the internet, their reach can extend well beyond those members to interested readers worldwide.

But such magazines don’t fit neatly within the societies that own them. Although many members consider a magazine the main benefit of their membership, publishing trustworthy, independent journalism is not in a professional society’s skill set. Covering fields where the society has a financial interest can be fraught. Adding to the awkwardness, many society magazines have become financial burdens on their parent organizations in recent years as traditional forms of advertising have dwindled.

C&EN has long felt these tensions, including the financial one. In 2021, the American Chemical Society transferred the magazine from its revenue-generating Publications Division to a newly formed Communications Division, a part of the organization that is also in charge of disseminating press releases and other information about ACS. One of the reasons ACS gave for the move was to put C&EN on firmer financial footing.

The intention may have been good, but ACS leaders didn’t anticipate the outcry from C&EN’s journalists, who rightly equated the Communications Division with public relations and saw the move as potentially compromising C&EN’s editorial independence—if not in fact, then certainly in perception.

Several experienced editors and reporters left C&EN after the change of division. Then in December 2022, ACS dismissed the magazine’s editor in chief and one of its executive editors in a reorganization aimed at enhancing C&EN’s coverage of ACS. Many ACS members were dismayed by the dismissals and new mandate, and online letters and a petition circulated urging ACS leaders to keep the magazine’s focus on important stories that affect the chemistry enterprise. Another round of staffers quit, leaving the ranks severely depleted.

The turmoil at C&EN was a crisis for Al Horvath, who was named CEO of ACS in November and started the job Jan. 1. In a Feb. 8 town hall meeting with C&EN staffers, he said he had spent 90% of his time in recent weeks grappling with the future of the magazine.

Two days later, Horvath announced that C&EN would return to the Publications Division. In a follow-up meeting, Jim Milne, the head of the division, welcomed the magazine back. A slate of interim editors was named to replace some of those who had left. One of them is me, C&EN’s executive editor for business and policy, who will be editor in chief until a permanent top editor can be found. The other interim editors (not yet reflected on our masthead) are Laura Howes, team lead for life sciences coverage; Mitch Jacoby, team lead for physical sciences; and Chris Gorski, science news editor.

The past 3 months have been difficult for C&EN’s staff, including those of us who have chosen to remain. We’ve had too many departure announcements and teary farewell calls on Zoom. Meanwhile, some issues of the magazine are a little thinner, and we are deviating modestly from our weekly publishing schedule. Some days our website has fewer new stories than usual, and we aren’t as able to do multimedia and special projects.

But I can say with certainty that we remain dedicated to our mission of providing credible, authoritative journalism that chemical scientists need. We continue to be guided by a thorough and thoughtful Standards and Practices document that codifies our independence and explains how we conduct our reporting. And I am confident that we will rebuild our staff while staying true to our values of informing chemical scientists and making journalism that matters.


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