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A group of science students and researchers at Queensland University have started a petition seeking 20,000 names in support of a letter urging Australian youth radio network Triple J to feature more science news.

The group dubbed And in Science quote research from ANU University that suggests the public is very interested in stories about science, health, new discoveries and environmental issues – more so than sport and politics. From the 2010 ANU Poll, which surveyed 1200 Australians:

The latest ANU Poll looked at public attitudes about science. It found that far from being a nation of sports obsessives, Australians would prefer to hear about health issues, medical discoveries and the environment in their news bulletins. However, the poll also found that the public felt poorly informed about science, are confused about climate science, and think politicians are too easily swayed by media reaction when they should be listening to scientists.

Source: ANU Poll 2010

Source: ANU Poll 2010

Here is what And in Science want, specifically:

We, the undersigned, believe that science deserves equivalent representation to that of politics, culture, breaking news, and sport. We believe that science is both interesting and relevant, and meaningfully contributes to our understanding of the world (and universe) around us. Therefore, we hereby petition Triple J (Australia’s publicly owned youth radio station) to include an ‘In science’ report in their hourly news updates, of one or more contemporary and current science news items and of at least 20 seconds duration.

It seems like a reasonable request and I hope they get to their target of 20,000 signatures at Change.org.

I’d obviously like to see more science coverage in the mainstream media – and that’s an issue I could write a lot about.

But let’s deal for the moment with youth radio in New Zealand.

Ironically, I just did my weekly Dear Science slot on Bfm where I wrap up the big science stories of the week with the Wednesday host of The Wire, Georgia Moselen-Sloog. The station, which is similar to Tripe J in many respects, but is not publicly-funded, actually has a fairly strong science focus. I know this because often I have to drop science or environment stories from Dear Science because they have had significant coverage earlier in the day. A lot of experts and scientists are featured in Bfm interviews. Other stations that are part of the bNet network of student radio stations also cover a lot of science-related stories.

The point is, I think, that young people host these shows and produce these news bulletins, and young people are particularly interested in science, environment and tech stories. So I think the problem is not so pronounced here as it may be with Triple J.

We will also towards the end of the year see the formation of a youth-orientated news service by Radio New Zealand. This is an exciting project and will see a true multimedia approach to news mainly online, with content also running on National Radio. I’ve spoken to the team behind it – they are enthusiastic about science coverage. Both they and I see it as a great opportunity to communicate science in a way that cuts through with a younger audience.

Mainstream commercial media the problem

So for me, youth-orientated radio does reasonably well on science – there could always be more, but I see good anecdotal evidence that science-related content is a strong part of the news mix.

A problem remains with science coverage in the mainstream media in general. Most editors and executive producers tell me that science stories are no more or less important than other types of stories and need to slug in out with them to find a place on the news agenda. But the reality is that it is down to resourcing. No news outlets, other than Radio New Zealand, have fulltime science reporters on staff. General reporters cover science alongside politics, spot news and crime.

It means that when a science story gets the green light from an editor, it is likely to get a decent treatment. But it also means that there are few dedicated outlets for science news, that long-running topics and issues like climate change are covered randomly and often without much context. This is not ideal and I’ve been pushing for years for more resourcing of dedicated science coverage.

Editors also tell me that science rates well on news websites, which I think helps build the case for dedicated resourcing of the round, though judging by what’s driving traffic to Stuff today, science more often than not, doesn’t get much of a look-in.

Source: Stuff.co.nz

Source: Stuff.co.nz

I don’t think a petition for more science news will go very far in New Zealand but I’d certainly like to see some decent research done on what sort of news a cross-section of New Zealanders want. If science similarly rates highly as it did in the ANU Poll, the case to push for more science coverage across the board would be very strong.