Science writing – for the news vs for the academe

“Science writing in a news context is intrinsically different from science writing in an academic context. As Peters et al. (2008) stress, ‘From a social constructivist point of view, science and journalism construct knowledge about the world according to different principles’ (p. 269). This is a significant reason for the specific study of science-related news reporting.” (p.7)

“News is not inherent in an event – what counts as news only becomes so when nominated by an editor or journalist for inclusion in a broadcast, webcast or paper. Media scholars characterise editors and journalists as selecting (albeit tacitly) events for reporting according to a complex set of criteria. These news selection criteria, referred to as ‘news values’ (Figure 1) operate at every level within the news production process, not only in the selection of the story but also in the shaping of the text.” (p.8) “Crucial to the understanding of science in the news is the recognition that news values apply as much to science-related reportage as to other reportage. Science journalism is first and foremost journalism.” (p.8)

“Unlike ‘core science’, ‘cutting edge science’ has a weak evidence base: it is tentative and often contested, it is ‘uncertain’ and provisional. Timeliness, too, inclines the media to be event-oriented, highlighting the latest study rather than reviewing all that is known.” (pp.8-9)

“Journalists select and construct their news stories around their ‘sources’. In science, the elite journals are the foremost source, the fact that the research is peer-reviewed offering a warrant of reliability (European Commission., 2007; Hagendijk & Meeus, 1993; Hansen, 1994; Russell, 2010). Stories are also culled from major conferences. Universities, research institutions (governmental, independent and industry-based) and interest groups (advocacy, pressure and campaigning), with increasing sophistication and impact, provide ‘press’ conferences, packs, releases and statements. News agencies or ‘wire services’ (e.g. Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters Group Limited etc.) and science specific news services (e.g. EurekAlert, AlphaGalileo) are further sources (see Trench, 2009). Scientific academies, institutions and associations also provide ‘briefings’ on topical issues. (p.9)

“Finally, that news emerges through a process of selection and construction implies it is motivated – it has purpose. Media studies texts often list these purposes as to inform, interpret, persuade, entertain and, crucially, to be economically viable. News feeds information into the public sphere. The media claim, and are generally accorded, a role in those processes essential for democracy (Allan, 1999; Bazalgett, Harland, & James, 2008; Keeble, 2001): they contribute to an informed citizenry, they hold powerful individuals and institutions to account and, through ‘investigative journalism’, they disclose and expose, protecting the public interest and guarding the common good. In this sense, they serve as the ‘fourth estate’. This applies to sciencerelated matters as much as to other matters. Science news reports feed science information into the public sphere. There, much of it ‘evaporates’. However, some contributes to individual or community decision-making in relation to important socioscientific issues. The media provide a forum for debate (Felt, 1993). Furthermore, they carry out a ‘democratic watchdog role’, scrutinising the practices of government, business, interest groups and scientists themselves (Russell, 2010, p. xvi).” (p.10)

Ref: Billy McClune & Ruth Jarman (2012): Encouraging and equipping students to engage critically with science in the news: what can we learn from the literature?, Studies in Science Education, 48:1, 1-49.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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