- Lisa Green
Today is the opening day of the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2009) in London England. Nature, a publication that has been promoting scientific journalism for over 100 years, has produced a special edition on science journalism to accompany WCSJ2009.
The conference is sure to include a significant amount of reflection on how the profession has changed and speculation on what the future holds for scientific journalism. Nature’s special feature also addresses these issues.
Boyce Rensberger discusses the history of scientific journalism in his wonderful piece Science journalism: Too close for comfort. Rensberger portrays the role of early 20th century science journalists as passive translators of jargon who would never dream of questioning the word of a scientist.
science journalists at US newspapers in the 1930s and 1940s believed that it was their job to persuade the public to accept science as the salvation of society (B. V. Lewenstein Public Underst. Sci. 1, 45–68; 1992)
He goes on to describe how the mid-century saw a transformation as science journalists became more willing to be critical of scientists.
And so the next great age of science journalism began — the ‘Watchdog Age’ — as science reporters became much more like their colleagues in other parts of the newsroom.
Rensberger acknowledges that this century has seen yet another transformation with print journalism suffering and new media seeming to take over as we enter the Digital Age, but his article is primarily a retrospective and he does not venture into speculation on the future of science journalism.
Other articles included in Nature’s special feature do examine the digital age. Geoff Brumfiel ‘s article Science journalism: Breaking the convention? covers the new methods of reporting science. It looks at the issue of whether or not blogging is journalism. Should bloggers be held to the same rules as journalist when it comes to reporting? How do you draw the line between a scientist who blogs and a journalist who blogs? Brumiel also does an excellent job of reviewing the issues surrounding live-blogging or using services such as Twitter and FriendFeed at scientific conferences. Some scientists worry about being scooped and dislike having the information they are willing to share verbally with conference attendees taken down as notes and made available on blogs or social networks. Other scientists see these digital communication tools as the way of the future and praise the increased efficiency of information sharing.
Taken together, the six articles in Nature’s special issue present a full perspective on science journalism. The articles are free on Nature’s website for the next few weeks so be sure to check them out soon!SHARE