Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Journalism and Science

Once upon a time I thought of being a science journalist instead of a scientist.... this blog is in some ways an attempt to try and write about science for a general audience. I've always felt that it is important for scientists to convey to the 'ordinary Joe' what it is they do, not the least because the 'ordinary Joes' of the world pay our salaries.

So why did I major in Biology instead of Journalism? Well, for a start, attitudes like this one:

A problem exists within the high-school education system: It doesn't prepare students for their careers. When I decided in high school that my major was going to be journalism, I took the only class offered by my school in hopes of learning the journalistic writing style. I didn't learn anything from that class. My teacher was not a journalism teacher; she was an English teacher. We spent every class silent reading instead of learning about the inverted pyramid.

The school system needs a reality check; most students aren't going to be mathematicians, historians, or chemists. So why do we have to take these classes
This from a journalism major. Worse, this was printed in a school paper, with the approval of various collegues and editors... also (I would guess) journalism majors and professors.

PZ Meyers and SuperDoomedPlanet have already had a take on it, so I'm not going to say more about our budding young journalist from Iowa. Her attitude doesn't surprise me though... I've written for several university papers, and one thing that has struck me is how journalists are encouraged to be empty vessels that merely regurgitate whatever is fed to them. This makes the average journalist fresh from J-school a terrible science reporter, since they lack any background at all to understand what scientists are telling them, never mind to evaluate what they are saying. What I've always found ironic is that the one area of journalism where this emty-vessel attitude is not encouraged is sports journalism. Would a newspaper hire a sports journalist who thought Knute Rockne was the British ski jumping champion? Why then do they discourage thinking skills in other forms of journalists?

Journalism shouldn't be a major at all, but rather a set of courses that focus on the specialized style of writing and information gathering journalists need, taught alongside a major in some other field... science, english, psychology, philosophy... something that broadens the future journalists horizons so that they can understand, evaluate, and ultimately select the information given to them for inclusion into their articles. Journalists need to be intelligent, well rounded individuals. Not empty echo chambers like our aspiring journalism major from Iowa.