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Science journalist

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Science journalist

Science journalism conveys reporting about science to the public. The field typically involves interactions between scientists, journalists, and the public.

Aim of science journalism

Science values detail, precision, the impersonal, the technical, the lasting, facts, numbers and being right. Journalism values brevity, approximation, the personal, the colloquial, the immediate, stories, words and being right now. There are going to be tensions.
—Quentin Cooper, of BBC Radio 4’s Material World, [2]

The aim of a science journalist is to render the very detailed, specific, and often jargon-laden information produced by scientists into a form that non-scientists can understand and appreciate, while still communicating the information accurately. One way science journalism can achieve this is by avoiding an information deficit model of communication. This model assumes a top-down, one-way direction of communicating information that limits an open dialogue between knowledge holders and the public.

Science journalists often do not have training in the scientific disciplines that they cover. Some have earned a degree in a scientific field before becoming journalists or exhibited talent in writing about science subjects. However, good preparation for interviews and even deceptively simple questions such as "What does this mean to the people on the street?" can often help a science journalist develop material that is useful for the intended audience.

Status of science journalism

With budget cuts at major newspapers and other media, there are fewer working science journalists working for traditional print and broadcast media than before. In 1989, the number of newspapers with weekly science sections was 95. By January 2013, that number was down to 19, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.[3] Similarly, there are currently very few journalists in traditional media outlets that write multiple articles on emerging science, such as nanotechnology. In 2011, there were 459 journalists who had written a newspaper article covering nanotechnology. When the data was narrowed down to those journalists who wrote about the topic more than 25 times in the year, the number fell to 7.[4] The fact that newspapers are cutting science sections at a higher rate probably has more to do with simple economics than anything else. Following the personal-computer boom of the 1980s, science reporting enjoyed a kind of heyday, one fueled by computer companies with money to spend on newspaper ads. For years, those ads supported robust science sections in the nation’s newspapers, but by the 1990s, as ad revenue migrated from print to the Web, newspaper companies began to funnel their dwindling resources into more broadly accessible sections.[3] Over the years, many science sections have folded into sections that include reporting on health, medicine and general wellness—all topics with a broader reader base than specific scientific topics like physics or astronomy. The ramifications of that shift are that older reporters trained in specialized scientific areas were pressured to take buyouts from newspapers looking to trim their staffs. There is a concern that more science reporting is being done by writers who don’t have a solid background in science. Specialized science reporting has been cut back, similar to the trend with specialized arts coverage.[3] In January 2012, just a week after The Daily Climate reported that worldwide coverage of climate change continued a three-year slide in 2012[5]—and that among the five largest U.S. dailies, the Times published the most stories and had the biggest increase in coverage,[6] the New York Times announced it was dismantling its environmental desk and merging its journalists with other departments. According to the Times, the change was prompted by the shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting. When the desk was created in early 2009, the environmental beat was largely seen as "singular and isolated." It was pre-fracking and pre-economic collapse. "Today, environmental stories are partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects," said a NYT representative. "They are more complex and require people working on the different desks that can cover different parts of the story." Beth Parke, executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said that while solid environmental coverage doesn't always require a dedicated team, the Times' decision is "worrying." "Dedicated teams bring strength and consistency to the task of covering environment-related issues," she said. "It's always a huge loss to see them dismantled ... It's not necessarily a weakening to change organizational structure, but it does seem to be a bad sign."[7]

News coverage on science by traditional media outlets, like newspapers, magazines, radio, and news broadcasts is being replaced by online sources. In April 2012, the New York Times was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for content published by Politico and The Huffington Post, both online sources - a sign of the platform shift by the media outlet. New communication environments provide essentially unlimited information on a large number of issues, which can be obtained anywhere and with relatively limited effort. The web also offers opportunities for citizens to connect with others through social media and other 2.0-type tools to make sense of this information. Young writers looking to pursue the field are finding more opportunities now than ever online with websites, science blogs and specialty publications such as Wired magazine. "After a lot of hand wringing about the newspaper industry about six years ago, I take a more optimistic view these days,” said Cristine Russell, president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. “The world is online. Science writers today have the opportunity to communicate not just with their audience but globally.” [8] Blog-based science reporting is filling in to some degree, but has problems of its own.[9]

Types of science journalism

There are many different examples of scientific literature. A few examples include:

Notable science journalists

Criticism

Science journalists regularly come under criticism for falsely reporting scientific stories. Very often, such as with climate change, this leaves the public with the impression that disagreement within the scientific community is much greater than it actually is.[10] Science is based on experimental evidence, testing and not dogma, and disputation is a normal activity.[11]

Science journalism finds itself under a critical eye due to the fact that it combines the necessary tasks of a journalist along with the investigative process of a scientist.

One reason science journalists appear to disagree is that science journalists can begin as either a scientist or a journalist and transition to the other. Science is communication of how the world works. Journalists who become scientists are more likely to find their information based on what’s new in the topic field. Journalists without a background and expertise in the topic they write about have a more limited amount of knowledge to communicate.[12]

One area in which science journalists seem to support varying sides of an issue is in risk communication. Science journalists may choose to highlight the amount of risk that studies have uncovered while others focus more on the benefits depending on audience and framing.

See also

References

External links

  • Indian Science Communication Society
  • European Union of Science Journalists' Associations
  • National Association of Science Writers (USA)
  • Northwest Science Writers Association (Pacific Northwest, USA)
  • Association of British Science Writers
  • Canadian Science Writers' Association
  • Arab Science Journalists Association
  • Union of Italian Science Journalists (UGIS, Unione Giornalisti Italiani Scientifici)
  • World Federation of Science Journalists
  • SWIM - Science Writers in Italy
  • TELI - German Science Writers
  • MIT

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