Exploring effective science journalism: update

“A science journalist should be capable of, at a minimum, reading a scientific paper and being able to venture a decent opinion.” Martin Robbins

Check out this article by Martin Robbins of The Guardian. Last week Robbins posted a spoof of science journalism that to his complete surprise went viral on the web!
In this article (link below), Robbins follows up by outlining how writers use ‘scare quotes’ to distance themselves from from the words they write and “absolve themselves of any responsibility for [those words]”. He suggests that these tactics are “deeply ingrained” at the BBC.  He also explains that reporters/journalists struggle with operational and bureaucratic constraints that just perpetuate these problems: formatting and word limits, pressures to write in order to optimize page views to raise advertising revenues, pressures to make science “accessible to all”.  The latter leads to unnecessary and ineffectual “dumbing down” of scientific information. 

I get really choked by enthusiastic critics that fail to offer up solutions. Robbins does due diligence here and provides us with some well-articulated ways in which to improve science journalism:

1. Stop racing the pack.
2. Challenge and analyze.
3. Experiment with rule-breaking.
4. Nuture Talent
5. Write for the web.

See more at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2010/sep/28/science-journalism-spoof?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

And another great quote….

“If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you’re not effectively ‘taking a side’, then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that’s your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.” Ed Yong (check out his blog entry: ‘should science take sides?’ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/09/23/should-science-journalists-take-sides/)

Related to this, in a Twitter in October 2010 Michael Specter refers to another article by Ed Yong: Should Science Journalists Take Sides?

The short answer is: “Hell, yes!”

The desire to be ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’ in science journalism is problematic in that journalists become detached from the proceedings that they report on. They don’t take sides and the problem is that reality doesn’t work like that and a commitment to the view from nowhere has many problems:

1.  It is a disservice to journalism

2.  It reflects laziness

3. It signals a poor understanding of one’s audience

4. naiveté – true objectivity does not exist

5. forces ethical breaches

6. finally, it is a failure in understanding the nature of science: “Science journalism is a fundamentally different beast to, say, political reporting. Here, there is an objective truth. “

“…this is about taking sides with truth. It’s about being knowledgeable enough to make a decent stab at uncovering the truth and presenting the outcomes of that quest to one’s readers, even if that outcome lies firmly on one side of a “debate”. It’s about doing the actual job of a journalist, by analysing, critiquing, placing into context and so on, as opposed to merely reporting. It’s about acknowledging one’s own biases and making them plain to see for a reader.In the end, this is about transparency and truth, concepts that are far more important than neutrality or objectivity. After all, the word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars’. It shouldn’t be ‘journalists’.”

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/09/23/should-science-journalists-take-sides/

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