Science journalism isn’t dead, it just smells funny

Marielba Nuñez
Freelance journalist from Venezuela, SciDev.Net


“Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny,” said musician Frank Zappa. And inspired by Zappa, an ESOF session pondered over whether science journalism was dead or just beginning to smell funny in recent years.

The reason is rising concern over the future of the profession that is coping with the dizzying pace and trends set by social media, which is challenging and changing traditional channels of information flow and communication.

Frank Zappa: ‘Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny’ Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

But, reminded Italian science journalist Elisabeta Tola, every crisis brings new opportunities. Science journalism is witnessing an emerging trend of ‘data journalism’ which is  gaining more followers.

Data journalism involves going beyond press releases and research papers to obtain data from public and private institutions, process it with digital tools and interpret the data to tell news stories. The emphasis is more on reporting and interpreting data, rather than writing news stories.

This also means that journalists need to improve their skills in obtaining data and interpreting it to reveal trends that could serve as important information for the public.

Tola cited the work of Italian journalist Amelia Beltramini, who gathered information about the efficiency of Italian hospitals treating complicated cases, such as cardiovascular diseases, and put it in public domain.

The trend is linked to transparency, accountability, public participation, open access and local information,  objectives shared by science journalists, too.

The session’s panelists, which included Irish science journalist Brian Trench, Finland’s Vesa Niinikangas, and Germany’s Wolfgang Goede offered some recommendations to keep science journalism alive, healthy and ticking. These include practising more critical journalism, probing more into the work of science institutions, and asking more questions about the use of funds for research.

So science journalism is very much alive.

This blog post is part of our ESOF 2012 blog which takes place 11-15 July, 2012. To read news and analysis on themes related to the conference please visit our website.

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