“Science journalism is dying in the mass media…only those really interested in it will continue to purchase specialist science media…TV news and documentaries will become dumbed down in order to compete with the idiocy on the Internet” – Science journalist response to a Nature survey.
Question. Should we let the old media to be supplanted? In other words, is science journalism worth saving? I don’t mean the idea of science journalism, but the institution that exists today. Science blogging primarily came into existence because scientists wanted more influence over what was being published and what the public had access to. Frankly, who can blame them?
Basically all that is being published in the mass media today falls into three categories: wacky science, scare stories and scientific “breakthroughs” (which apparently occur every five seconds, how many “cures” for cancer have there been?). Paul Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, summed it up by saying that,
“Newspapers realize that they can get their audience by peddling crap instead of real science”
The mainstream media requires quick and ‘accurate’ science content. They need stories that will sell newspapers, magazines or get audiences tuning into their station, day after day, month after month. Oh and they need it now.
What does this mean for the story? Content-wise? It means that, generally, you’re either going to get the ‘crap’ Myers spoke about, or you’re going to get material straight from the scientist (through a journal article, science blog or media release, etc) which can oftentimes not be the easiest thing in the world to make sense of.
What about the in between? Princeton and Yale University are trying to improve coverage of environmental news on websites, by taking a new approach to science journalism. Michael Lemonick, a long-time science writer for Time magazine, said that his job at the Princeton website requires him to listen more closely to researchers. However, Lemonick stressed that this doesn’t mean that researchers make the story into a ‘dry, scientific paper’,
“They have to recognize the needs of the journalist, but we have to recognize the needs of the scientists. We’re kind of fusing the two cultures.”
‘Fusing the two cultures’. I think that’s where the solution lies for the future success of science journalism. Stop taking the easy option. There is no need to dumb down science; we have to remember that there is a difference between dumbing down and making it understandable for the public. We need to give the public information they can understand and not treat them like idiots.
Check out the video below. WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES. How is that science? That is what is getting through to the public. And that’s the problem.
The “idiocy on the internet” needs to be fought. I think it’s possible. Do you?
Reference: Supplanting the old media? (Geoff Brumfiel)