The past and future of science journalism and science communication

By Grant Jacobs 12/06/2015

Let me alert readers to an on-line copy of Dan Fagin’s excellent keynote address at the World Conference of Science Journalists, held in Seoul, South Korea.

His piece has links with many topics for science communicators, scientist-communicators and New Zealanders in general, not just science journalists – hence my offering it as recommended reading here.

Parts parallel Peter Griffin’s thoughts on the demise of the NZ news show Campbell Live, A lesson for science communicators in Campbell Live demise. New Zealanders may find disturbing similarities with ‘Dirty Politics’ and possibly the direction our mainstream media is headed (and politics, too). Science communicators, of all stripes, will relate to it.

In particular for science communicators and scientist-communicators, Dan talks about media convergence – hybrid models that blend different media forms and elements. (Al Jazeera’s The Stream, that I referred to in my previous post, is perhaps a good example of this.)

Against positive trends in media convergence, and what this can contribute to storytelling, he relates how audiences are being fractured or ‘atomised’ in many little clusters, along with the echo chamber effect this can create.

He looks at where science journalists might head and at the end notes,

And finally, whether we like it or not – and I have made my peace with it – we are surely going to see much more journalistic content produced directly by non-journalists, especially by experts who can communicate with authority. Scientists are very much at the leading edge of this trend, as the rapid growth of science blogs shows. There are certainly problems associated with this development, but it is part of the democractisation of storytelling, spurred by the web, and to me its positive aspects far outweigh the negatives. What’s crucial, no matter who’s doing the storytelling – whether a professional journalist or someone else – is that those stories need to be infused with core journalistic values like verification and clarity and transparency and fairness and context. Professional journalists will, I think, be spending a growing percentage of their time mentoring these non-journalist subject-matter experts and editing their work via so-called ‘Pro-Am’ collaborations.

For me this passage strongly echoes my suggestion of formal scientist-communicator roles earlier in the week in Consider this rare beast, the scientist-communicator.

It’s interesting to see a senior science journalist accept scientist-communicators. Perhaps universities ought to take this as their lead. My article notes the division of communication skills that he refers to, too.

Plenty in his piece to think about – feel free to comment below.


Update: Dan has suggested I point to a new copy of his address on-line on Scribd; I’ve updated the link.

Thanks to Dan Fagin for sharing the contents of his keynote address.

An exception to this in NZ might be Radio NZ, which currently seems to be a refuge for ‘serious’ journalism. It might be interesting to see where they take that, too.

I wanted to offer you selected passages that I thought covered the points that most coming from science communication would be interested in, specially for those lacking the time to read it as Dan’s presentation is a fairly long read. Unfortunately my version of Word cannot read his file, nor did my efforts with pandoc yield something workable. It’s a nuisance to not offer more as there’s a lot of good stuff to digest. The quotes I offer are copied by hand – any errors are my own.

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