Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Interview: Science Journalist

Yesterday, I interviewed a science journalist. I wanted to know what makes science journalism different from regular journalism, about the limitations the genre has in addressing scientific issues, and get a journalists perspective on communicating science with the general public.

Connie St Louis, BBC 4 journalist for science and health and director of City University London's MA in Science Journalism, was kind enough to speak with me. Here are a few things I learned.

There's a lot of bad science journalism out there. A good science journalist should be an investigator, an adjudicator, someone who understands and can contextualize the story. This was great news as one of my complaints about science journalism is that new study results are rarely put into context. This requires the journalist to have an understanding of the scientific process and the field of study.

Science Journalism v. Science communication: many news stories today appear as press releases for studies/departments/paper rather than journalism pieces that explain the significance of the study's findings for a general reader. This can be confusing for a reader. Many of the science articles published simply report the findings of a study, leaving them in a role as more of a science communications person than a journalist.

Often times journalists point to editors for the lack of quality in reporting. They say editors want front page news. Editors may take out key pieces of an article. One suggestion for changing this is to improve communication between the journalists and their editors so as to improve the editors' understanding of what's important but also to treat science journalists as experts.

For journalists, and for me in my dissertation, the key thing is breaking things down into digestible bits for a general audience. This means using terms that everyone can understand, asking why, dropping assumptions and asking questions. As Connie said, she needs to 'listen with an audience's ears' and create good, jargon-free journalism.

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