Science does not punch its weight in the newsroom

Is science punching its weight in the newsroom? As Kenny Campbell said, “If the answer was yes, we’d all spend the next hour hugging and swapping tales of success”. This debate was centred around why science is not getting the coverage it deserves, and how this can be remedied.

Campbell felt as though scientists were failing to embrace the media. He said there were only two opinions: “I hate how the media have failed to cover my story” and “I hate how the media have covered my story”. Despite this, science stories are popular, with readers “desperate for informative and engaging content”. 

He emphasised the need to always bear the reader in mind: for an audience of bleary-eyed commuters on the Northern line at 8am, a science story must be able to instantly grab attention. We should “never forget the power of a picture”, especially if it involves Rihanna in some way, he added.

Despite a poll of Guardian readers highlighting the need for more science news, Ian Katz, the paper’s deputy editor, said science stories have relatively little impact, with few making the front-page.

Katz felt that with scientists preferring to promote their work in specialist journals, and with more complicated stories requiring more column inches, science is not reported as often as it should be. But journalists should also be capitalising on the scientific aspects of front-page stories such as the dust cloud and energy policy.

Having spoken to some of the more senior figures at the Guardian office, he found a smattering of science and maths qualifications. However, he suggested that this top-down approach is beginning to falter, given the recent financial “squeezing” of journalism. Katz praised the “flowering of science blogging” and believes this could lead to a “more networked model of journalism”.

Martin Fewell was supportive of science journalists, saying that a high level of expertise gives a “point of distinction” in the newsroom. He agreed with Katz, saying that science journalists were “missing a trick” by not including science in general news stories, and that such knowledge is incredibly valuable. His tips for fledgling journalists? “Learn Mandarin... and follow your instincts.”

Siobhan Chan, UKCSJ student scholar