Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is science journalism scaling back?

Newspapers and traditional journalism is taking a big hit from declining circulation and revenues: likewise, science journalism is suffering. Can science blogging by scientist-bloggers make up for the shortfall? A recent article in Nature looks at the situation now.

To my mind, science blogging will not be able to 'replace' traditional journalism, for the following reasons: 1. blogs tend to be personal and immediate, focused on the blogger's experience and so may leave out perspectives beyond those most familiar, 2. they are not necessarily written for a wide audience - the lay public will find most science blogs a bit too specialized or 'geeky', 3. unless they go looking for them actively, most people will not ever have the occasion to read a science blog, whereas newspaper science and technology reporting is there with all the other news, and finally 4. how are we going to know the reliability of the blogger? It's all well and good when the blogger is someone familiar and trustworthy (like this blog!) blogging on fairly innocuous topics but what about issues of biomedicine where there are many ethical conflicts of interest? Journalists, at least in theory, are supposed to weigh the facts and present both sides of the story as fairly as they can - but what are we to make of a blogging biomedical researcher presenting his supposedly candid opinion of a drug under review?

These conundrums aside, I think the field is a healthy one and it certainly is growing. Many institutions are using the web to reach out to the public, going beyond the traditional press release. Even professional societies and academies are offering podcasts about new research, job opportunities, and member profiles. All I can say for now is 'watch this space'!

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