Health & Environment by Débora Miranda

How to engage when reporting science

Before I enrolled this Science Journalism MA I had a very vague idea of how different fields of science should be reported. I only knew that I enjoyed reading science stories – particularly on health and environment – and had the awareness of belonging to a minority of readers. Especially when you come from a country where three daily sports newspapers (or I’d better say football papers) have ridiculously high sales. I remind you that Portugal has one of the lowest readership rates of all EU member states.

Therefore, the challenge of writing science stories is greater than one could expect. There are plenty of websites, blogs and books exclusively dedicated to science. But they just do not reach the wide audience that we would like to read us. Science has to be squeezed in sports newspapers, in light Facebook forums, in food packages, in TV advertisement. It has to be – or become – part of people’s lives. And “people” here stands for a common audience who might not even be sure what the greenhouse effect is.

You could add to that list of non-stories almost all scientific activity, almost all trade union activity, almost all European Union politics, almost all the activities of the World Bank, the IMF and the world’s NGOs (…).

Nick Davies, Flat Earth News

Science is somehow a word that scares people off. And we, both scientists and journalists, must try to change this.

On the other hand, the way to this change becomes dangerous when engaging an audience is a priority over the truth. This can be particularly frustrating when so many studies find out, show and suggest incredible new scientific truths that are however still subject to further research, meaning that they are not always breakthrough stories.

Science journalists often struggle to turn scientific papers into engaging stories

But! Does science produce truth after all?

This is the key point for doing science journalism. Journalism aims to inform about the truth, but selling a science story easily means distorting it – and consequently contributing to a less accurate knowledge.

So how to be engaging when writing about health, environment, technology, psychology or science in general? Are science blogs the best way to do it? How should we convince teenagers, priests, cleaning ladies, architects and chefs to go here and here and here in their free time to acquire scientific information as a form of entertainment?

Journalism often survives out of bad news. The importance of science journalism is thus increasing as stories such as earthquakes, oil disasters and swine flu epidemics become more regular and popular.

Good news for science journalists, I would say.


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