Science Journalism: To mark the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists from 30 June-2 July 2009 in London, Nature is shining a spotlight on the profession in changing times. Science journalism faces an uncertain future. But to what extent should scientists help — or care?
Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?
Science journalism is in decline; science blogging is growing fast. But can the one replace the other, asks Geoff Brumfiel.
Bloggers with a science background, like bloggers on most other topics, often demonstrate open scorn for the mainstream media (MSM in blogspeak). "You get a press release that is slightly rehashed by somebody in the newsroom and it goes in the paper! It's wrong, its sensationalist, it erodes the public trust in scientific endeavour," says Bora Zivkovic, author of A Blog Around the Clock on ScienceBlogs and an online community manager for the Public Library of Science journals. Myers takes a similar view. "Newspapers realize that they can get their audience by peddling crap instead of real science," he says. Not surprisingly, those who came to blogging from journalism — such as Carl Zimmer, who writes for a range of publications, including The New York Times, and blogs at Discover — tend to disagree. But Larry Moran, a biochemistry professor at the University of Toronto, Ontario, who blogs at Sandwalk, seemed to speak for many bloggers when he recently wrote "Most of what passes for science journalism is so bad we will be better of [sic] without it".
While journalists such as Zimmer expand their mainstream work into their blogs, bloggers with roots in the lab are moving into print. Myers will soon contribute a regular column to the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. Derek Lowe now writes regular columns for The Atlantic and the trade magazine Chemistry World (both have also written for Nature). This work, though, tends towards opinion and analysis, not reporting. "Bloggers don't want to be journalists," says Zivkovic. "I want to write on my blog whatever I want. I may write a post about a new circadian paper, but the next eighty posts are about politics or what I ate for breakfast." Despite his distaste for how the trade is practised, he thinks that there will always be a need for professional journalists covering science. "Somebody has to actually be paid to write about things as they come out," he says.