The recently exposed unethical practices within the Murdoch empire probably confirmed most people’s worst nightmares. We know that the world of journalism has lately changed considerably. For one, there are more mass media channels than ever before and reporting of news is not a privilege to professional journalists anymore. With the possibility for anyone nowadays to leave their opinion somewhere in cyberspace, no wonder that particularly newspapers are in survival mode. Those that can keep their head afloat may only be able to do so by using clever tricks, which in the case of Murdoch’s media powerhouse clearly turned dirty.
There is certainly the notion that in the political arena, many journalists have lost control over news coverage by having become reliant on government sources. This seems the only way to have access to quick and easy information from ‘credible’ sources in order to cover current issues and to meet ever dooming deadlines. The question how much such news reporting on current affairs can be trusted is likely to be a rhetorical one.
Now, your next thought may be that it surely has to be a completely different ball game when it comes to science writing for the broader public. According to research into science journalism and communication, apparently not! Evidently, coverage of hot issues in science can be equally sensationalised, distorted or reported in an unbalanced manner. Just to get it accepted by an editor, who most often is not a scientist. And it may all come down to a different interpretations of what it means for information to be newsworthy!
Scientists tend to consider research findings newsworthy only after they are endorsed by peers through replication, confirmation and peer review. Journalists consider fresh, dramatic and possibly tentative research findings newsworthy (Geller et al. 2005).
The friction between the ones discovering science news and those reporting it to the public has more recently been studied by Gail Geller at the John Hopkins University, Baltimore (US). Analysis of experiences of both parties involved in news coverage of genetic progress, above all, showed that trust formed the foundation for good communication and cooperation. This then led to a higher quality of accurate reporting and mutual approval of publishable content.
What nevertheless remained was a difference in opinion on whether the news coverage was intended to educate or inform the public. In the view of the science writer, the expectation of an interviewed scientist to educate the masses could only be met by informing the public through the translation of jargon in lay terms:
….every time you define a term you’re educating.
Only science writers with a scientific background may be knowledgeable and skilled enough to do so. They are therefore preferred over science journalists by most scientist. But where does that leave science journalism for the (near) future? Science writing has become a double edged sword by requiring insight science knowledge, appreciation for the way science works as well as good social, interviewing and writing skills. A balancing act that maybe only a few can perform with integrity.
Geller G, BA Bernhardt, M Gardner, J Rodgers and NA Holtzman (2005). Scientists’ and science writers’ experiences reporting genetic discoveries : Towards an ethic of trust in science journalism. Genetics in Medicine 7(3):198-205.
British tabloids: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_tabloids_-_July_5_2011.jpg . By Bobbie Johnson (Flickr: July 5, 2011) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A balancing act: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Reynolds,_9th_Street_NW_-_Washington,_D.C..jpg . By Harris & Ewing [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons