Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"The Present and Future of Science Journalism” a talk by Charles Petit

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the plenary session given by Charles Petit, titled “The Present and Future of Science Journalism.”  Charles Petit has been in the scientific writing field for over 40 years.  Former president of the National Association of Science Writers, lead writer for the MIT Knight Science Journalism Tracker and VP for the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, Petit has the accolades and experience to support ANY view on the state of Science Journalism (however depressing that POV may be).  He also has a degree in Astronomy, so we can guess his favorite scientific topic :)

Wobbling between the possible career paths of astronomy, education and science writing, I was interested in what he had to say about the demise of science journalism and the possible future of the field.  He gave an engaging lecture on the common themes of the downturn of newspapers and print media, the difference between press releases and articles, and how scientific discoveries are communicated in the modern era.

Given my personal affinity for the science education, I was drawn to the emphasis that Petit placed upon the difference on science educators and writers.   He offered an anecdote about his experiences, recalling how he was once asked to be on a committee to discuss and offer advice on science education.  As the story goes, he replied something along the lines of “why are you asking me? I’m not an educator.”  He (wisely?) noted that one should “never tell a reporter he’s an educator.”  While reporters and educators both highlight important aspects of science, he reminded us that reporters have no formal education, curriculum development or any experience that makes them qualified as educators.

Yet, what if they did?  What if the next generation of science writers and journalists had educational training that led to not only informative articles, but articles that took into consideration how the average reader could learn about the topics at hand. What if each article was not just a report, but a lesson? What if each article included an inquiry based activity on the page? The possibilities are endless. Maybe the future of journalism wouldn’t be so sad after all.

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