Mapping the Field: Specialist science news journalism in the UK national media
Monday, January 25, 2010
Mapping the Field: Specialist science news journalism in the UK national media.
A new report into science and the media has found that in some respects specialist science news reporting in the UK is in relatively good health.
But the research also warns about the serious threat to the quality and independence of science reporting posed by the wider crisis in journalism.
The study Mapping the Field: Specialist science news journalism in the UK national media was based on a survey of UK science, health, and environment news journalists, and 52 in-depth interviews with specialist reporters and senior editors in the national news media.
It was commissioned by the government’s Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills.
According to research by Dr Andy Williams of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies there has been an increase in the number of specialist science journalists in the UK national news media and there is a growing appetite for science news within newsrooms.
However, the economic and institutional constraints under which science journalists now operate have led to extreme workload increases, less time to seek out stories, check facts, and do basic research, increasing reliance on PR material from a very limited pool of news sources, and a growing homogeneity in science coverage.
Dr Williams said: "It was important to do this research because it looks at science journalism in its broad economic and institutional contexts. I found a mixed picture. It has to be a good thing that there are double the amount of specialist reporters covering science, health and environment news now than there were 20 years ago. But it’s not all good news."
"Most of the journalists we interviewed complain about severe workload increases, almost half say they’re mainly passive recipients of news rather than uncovering original stories themselves, a fifth say they don’t have enough time to fact-check stories they publish, and around the same number say they rely too much on PR material. These are all serious problems for the quality and independence of science news."
Commenting on Dr Williams’ research, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) report states: "We are extremely proud of this piece of research and want to offer huge thanks to Andy Williams for a fantastic piece of work and for his broader input to our group."