Delegates were briefed on how to podcast and then got straight down to the job of creating a podcast based on UKCSJ sessions. This session needed to be pre-booked and entailed working throughout the day and missing some sessions in order to undergo briefing and feedback.
1. UKCSJ Podcast Original, A five-minute podcast with interviews with conference presenters including journalists from New Scientist and The Observer. This podcast is the work of course podcast students: Alison Cooper, Glenys Jones, Ann McGauran and Marion Daker.
2. Two of the students on the course have re-edited the raw material.
The Times and Sunday Times online should be sat behind a pay wall by the time of the UKCSJ. Other UK national newspapers are, for the time being, sticking with the free model. But is the free model sustainable, and what effect has free access, and the 24 hour news cycle had on standards in science reporting. Should good journalism be ‘given away’ or does quality always come at a price?
High quality goods are never given away for free - think of the Apple iPod - but people expect to access information on the internet for free. So should quality science writing on the web come at a price?
The Times is leading the way forward and recently applied a 'paid for' model to their online content. Joanna Geary from The Times justified this decision as a revenue generator for quality science journalism. Publications need to earn money in order to pay for good science journalists and create quality output. "The free-to-access advertising model is one way of generating income, but it would mean doubling the readership to create enough income", Joanna says. The choice of sponsored content can cause brand ID problems if they are not chosen carefully. The paid-for model is a better long term option for The Times according to Joanna, with increased financial stability. Well aware of the risks of this newly adopted paid-for model, Joanna said "it's an experiment and we will find out what happens."
Blogging has changed in recent years, said the next speaker Martin Robbins, "It's not in conflict with traditional media anymore." The top 100 bloggers, he says, are all writing for traditional media company run platforms such as Scientific American. The extensive coverage on the internet results in a certain level of redundancy for each story that is covered. Martin says that the industry doesn't need saving, but a clean-up of the wasted content. Martin then referred to the success of the porn industry. After the market became flooded with amateurs, the industry harnessed their content and gave them their own platform. This generated revenue and allowed companies to invest in bigger and better quality productions.
According to George Brock, whether news should be free or paid for is a matter of business efficiency. George doubts that any damage has been done to science journalism yet as consequences take time to occur after technical innovations. He said it is difficult to predict the consequences of change but that consumers do not value journalism. Once more value is placed on content, people will pay, he says.
George suggests that the advertising model cannot be reproduced for the digital world in the same way as the print world as space is infinite on the web. He added that we will have to assume that quality journalism will continue to be free in the near future. The Times experiment is being watched and the results may remain ambiguous for a while, but if the industry is to cope with the glut of information that is now available on the web, The Times will need to share the results of their 'experiment' with others in order to more forward and keep science journalism alive. Certainly, the more we experiment, the more we will know, but how things will progress remains uncertain.
What does recent research say about science journalism in the UK, is it business as usual or have a new breed of science journalists established a ‘new science journalism’ in the blogosphere? Who is right in the heated debate over whether bloggers are journalists and has the distinction between blogging and journalism become a meaningless and semantic debate in the internet age? Do the changes in science reporting herald a new golden age for accuracy or the triumph of bad science?
Andy Williams is the RCUK Research Fellow in Risk, Health and Science Communication. He has a number of research interests which intersect journalism studies and cultural studies. His current major research interests relate to news sources and the influence of public relations on the UK media, especially in the area of science, health and environment news.
Marion Dakers, MA Newspaper Journalism, City University
The conference organisers could have saved themselves trouble by sitting bloggers and journalists separately. Before the speakers had even finished their opening statements, delegates were talking over each other from every side of the room to get their points across.
Fiona Fox, who was chairing the Business as Usual debate in place of the BBC's Pallab Ghosh, did a valiant job keeping the chatter in order. But her opening quip that "journalists have worked hard to earn their low reputation" was never going to settle this crowd.
"There will be uproar for saying this, but why not get rid of the embargo system altogether?" said the Economist's Oliver Morton from the back of the room. Several science writers, including Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science fame, had raised concerns that only certain bloggers get access to embargoed press releases. "No-one thinks all bloggers are journalists, surely. But readers are now thinking of bloggers as sources of journalism, and bloggers are waking up to their responsibilities," Yong had said earlier.
Andy Mills from Cardiff University outlined the widening gaps in mainstream coverage: three-quarters of science reporting is done by general reporters, and the number of specialists hit its peak in 2005.
"A lot of their time is spent convincing their editors not to run with bad science stories, with less and less time to fact-check," he warned, adding that just one in four journalists' claim most of their stories come from original work.
Only 38 per cent of journalists work full-time, according to Martin Bauer's research at the London School of Economics, leading to a lack of dedicated specialists and "the opportunity for commercialisation, hype and exaggeration of smaller and smaller differences" in science stories.
Mark Henderson from the Times countered with the tale of an American colleague whose editor preferred his reporters not to vote, in order to preserve their complete neutrality. "But we're human, and can never be neutral. We owe it to our readers to clear a path and make judgements on who should be believed," he added.
A woman to his left nodded vigorously. A few more made moves to applaud, though the delegate beside this correspondent continued with her knitting. It was hard to tell who was a journalist and who blogged, but unexpected reactions followed almost every speaker.
On whether it is business as usual for science journalism, opinions were predictably mixed.
Ed Yong said the current situation was a "new ecosystem where bloggers journalise and journalists blog. We shouldn't waste time on pointless dichotomies."
Oliver Morton agreed to some extent. "The blogosphere is not a noble savage that represents what we in the mainstream media would like to be - there are plenty of rules similar to those of journalism."
Mark Henderson wrested the microphone from the now exhausted runner to make a call for calm in the final minutes of the session. "There is plenty of space to be symbiotic, since neither journalism nor blogging are a whole."