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Science journalism boost

by on 20 Jan, 2010

Science journalism and science journalism training has got a lot of attention recently with a government-sponsored report proposing a raft of measures. By science the Science and the Media Expert group means the physical sciences as well as engineering and technology.

The vast majority of the general public get its news about science from the mass media. The objective of the recommendations of the Group is to improve the understanding of science among journalists, on the one hand, and the understanding of the media by scientists.

National Coordinator for Science Journalism Training
Some heavyweights are involved. The BBC, Reuters and the British Science Association among others. The Group calls for the creation of a National Coordinator for Science Journalism Training to be run by the Royal Statistical Society. And there is a push to train science press officers as well as journalists.
Many of the recommendations are of the type that I would say “about time too”.

These include:
Media courses for scientists. I’ve been involved in this with, among others, some serious brains at Hewlett-Packard’s Bristol Lab. The scientists get it and even enjoy it, when some of them can get over their prejudice about the media.
Lobby broadcasters for more and better science programming.
• Start an annual summer school for science investigative reporting. Investigative reporting is an excellent way to create exclusives and make the agenda.
• Secure more access for journalists to peer-reviewed journals where they report their “findings”.

Too narrow?
As so many journalists come from an arts background this is all to be welcomed. There is a danger that, if seriously undertaken at undergraduate level, the journalists of tomorrow will be in a niche. The more vocationally oriented undergraduate journalism courses become, the less chance that graduate may have of getting a job. There are only so many science journalism jobs. And the more Universities will become vocational trainers rather than education and research institutes.

At the University of East London, where I also teach, the new Sports Journalism BA is up and running.

The old way of becoming a journalist from Oxbridge was to do the PPE and therefore have a wide understanding of politics, philosophy and economics. Then onto the Times to write leaders! Broad training or subject-oriented? You can vote on this issue at the bottom right side panel Polls on the contentetc home page.

Blatant plug
One of the best ways of achieving the aims of the Group would be to increase the number of MA courses with a specialist twist in journalism. I help run a Magazines MA at UEL. This MA attracts people who have often been in journalism for some years and want a broader perspective. They want to answer the question “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

People like Steve Connor, science editor of The Independent and with whom I have the privilege to work in the past, would not benefit from this. They know the broader scene already. But there are hundreds if not thousands of others who could.


This type of education need not be full time nor done in the traditional way. It could be online e-learning. The BBC College of Journalism will develop its online science training content for all BBC journalists. It has launched its online training to the public for free. So far it is focused on new media issues and is not of particularly rich content.

Another blatant plug
And there is always the growing range of interactive Contentetc e-learning courses.

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