(Updated, October 25–) On Friday, September 20 the cardiology website TheHeart.Org died. It lost its separate and unique identity and became a part of Medscape (which is owned by WebMD). I played a part in the founding and development of TheHeart.Org (THO) and I mourn its loss. What follows is some of that story and why I think the loss of THO is sad.
(For those of you who don’t know, THO is, or was, an extremely popular website for cardiologists. It has been widely regarded as the most reliable and authoritative source for news about cardiology. In 2005 it was bought by WebMD for nearly $20 million. In 2008 it had about $30 million in annual revenue.)
I was the editor of the TheHeart.Org from its launch in 1999 until December 2008. I believe the success of THO was largely due to the way it improved the state of medical journalism, which was in a pitiful state at that time. The creation of THO was without doubt the professional highlight of my career. But that feeling was always tempered by my recognition that there was still much more that remained to be done. I am still proud of what we achieved, and want to acknowledge that the new THO/Medscape retains value, but it no longer represents the future of medical journalism, or aspires to create something new and different.
Update (October 25)– Since the announcement of the change I have watched with concern as significant amounts of Medscape-generated content have appeared on TheHeart.Org. Although the news generated by the Heartwire team continues to be valuable, the avalanche of additional so-called editorial content has had an unfortunate effect on the editorial balance, and it is harder to tell whether an individual item comes from the Heartwire editorial team or somewhere else.
This update was prompted by this tweet that came out a little while ago on TheHeart.Org twitter feed:
It’s hard to figure out how to respond to this sort of despicable clickbait. It demonstrates the complete rejection of any commitment to editorial excellence in favor of the cynical pursuit of page views. In this brave new world mindless content is king, as long as it contains nothing to which the sponsors might object.