At the ScienceOnline 2010 conference next month, I’m going to be on a panel about “Rebooting Science Journaiism,” in which I’ll join Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, and John Timmer in pondering the future of science journalism. God knows what will come of it, as none of us have the sure answers. But that session, as well as the entanglement of my own future with that of science journalism, has me focused on the subject. And two recent online discussions about it have piqued my interest.
One was the reaction, on a science writer’s email-list I’m on, to a recent Poynter interview with Times science writer Natalie Angier, in which she said
It’s basically going out of existence.
I can’t quote directly from the email list, since it’s a closed forum and meant to be private. But suffice to say this interview created a bit of stir there and elsewhere among science writers. Some seemed to feel that if so well-placed a colleague as Angier was feeling the heat (as well she might, given the layoffs recently at the Times), then things were bad indeed. A couple wondered if this was news to her, and if so, where she’d been the last ten years or so. (The answer: Busy writing to good effect and pay.) The most common reaction was to lament the layoffs and disappearance of science coverage in so many daily newspapers and elsewhere.
At this point I felt obliged to chime in that while the disappearance of MSM science journalism is a problem, a lot of the kind of content it was providing — especially simple reporting of studies and explanations of findings — is being replaced, in a manner, by science writers writing in blogs. As I wrote the email group:
Missing from [the Poynter article] is that much good science reporting (of a sort) is being delivered via blogs. That doesn’t get those reports to the mass audience. But it does mean the stuff is out there, so it’s not as if this information just disappeared. THere’s probably more going on now than there was 10 years ago — just not in the same places, and produced and disseminated and vetted via different conventions.
David “Where Has All the Science Gone?” Dobbs
it took only a few hours for someone to raise doubts about what the bloggers deliver, given a) the individual perspectives they sometimes bring and b) the lack of reporting (that is, interviewing and research) that often goes along with uncompensated blogging. Valid concerns, variations of which I have expressed myself before. But as I noted in my response,
Wuh-oh. I sense a slide into old trenches here.
No, most bloggers don’t do [a lot of reporting] — then again, fewer msm reporters are doing it these days, because they’ve been laid off or either don’t take or aren’t given thebtime to do the job right.
The q is not what’s better, present blog approach or increasingly rare msm/trad reporting approach. (God knows, no one values and loves deep, well-financed reporting than I do.) The q is how to come up with new models that allow the best of all these worlds, so that a robust, informed, diverse, well-reported, and well-written examination of science (and the rest of the world) can reach as many readers as possible.
I’m not suggesting the present blogosphere adequately replaces what is being lost. But I did think it important to note that it does replace some of what is being lost while offering some new things as well. That was left out of the story in E&P (the death of which breaks my heart). All I was saying — tho I’ll obviously say more if provoked.
So there I am wondering about such models, and Ketih Kloor, a science writer I admire (and whom I wrote a few stories for when he was an editor at Audubon), wonders aloud at Collide-A-Scape why there’s not more talk of organized alternative funding for science journalism:
In recent years, as newspapers have severely downsized and/or gone under, much of the concern has focused on investigative reporting. But the call to action has been taken up by numerous foundations and individual donors, who have helped launch well-funded and well-staffed new media outlets, such as Pro Publica.
There appears to be no such equivalent call to action for science journalism.
He then backlinks to a previous post, in which he wonders:
… why isn’t anyone rushing forward to fund new web vehicles for science journalism? Given the enormously complex issues that demand our attention, such as climate change and stem cell research, where are the bold, innovative proposals to keep top-notch (and increasingly unemployed) science journalists on the beat?
As best as I can tell, CJR’s The Observatory and Knight’s Science Journalism Tracker represent the main web endeavors being underwritten with institutional support. But each focuses on existing coverage, which is growing thinner by the day. I closely follow and value both sites, but the crisis in science journalism cries out for more creative, well funded web-based enterprises.
He has a point. There are a lot of organizations spending money on promoting science and science communications, but so far, if Kloor is right on this, not much aimed at funding high-level science journalism, either of the day-to-day reporting sort of the more in-depth kind that examines not just the findings but the workings of science. Where is our ProScientifica? Or are Kloor and I missing something?
I’d love to hear of any such efforts, or suggestions regarding what organizations might combine efforts to create something like that.