Before we jump right in, what exactly is a science journalist? Simply put, it is the job of these journalists to inform the general public about what is happening in the world of science and how it will affect communities.

With that said, over the years, it seems that science journalism has only been translating findings into a story and not much else. This means that journalists do not hold scientists accountable for certain issues leaking into the public space, which is quite frankly, worrying considering that we’re in a place of uncertainty — especially when these stories are written in such a way that the average person would not understand what is actually being said.

The moment a science journalist doesn’t seek to inform an audience or hold a scientist accountable is when they become a cheerleader for them. And although the media doesn’t have to educate people on the science behind the data, they still need to inform them about what’s going on.

Science journalists should not be mere mouthpieces for scientists: we are not PR agents,” says Claire Ainsworth, contributor for SciConnect.

Here, media update’s Talisa Jansen van Rensburg takes a look at why science journalists can’t just be cheerleaders for the industry.

Science journalists need to inform people correctly

Since the pandemic broke loose in late 2019 and early 2020, it was clear that there was a huge gap regarding any talk about any other issues that look at health and safety. For example, did you know that a blood test for cancer has been released? Or the fact that a new control method for the mosquito-borne disease known as dengue has led to a 77% cut of infections in Indonesia?

You probably didn’t, and it’s because of all the pandemic news that was busy spreading around. As a science journalist, it’s not only your job to be a watchdog for any important news happening regarding science, but also to report on that news — not just what’s trending at the time.

Therefore, these journalists’ role in informing everyone about what’s currently happening in the world should be informative and objective, as well as easy to understand. If a journalist is not doing that, then that is a clear indication that they are just cheerleaders, meaning their articles are subjective.

Science journalists should seek to uncover scientific misconduct

Since the world of science consists of jargon terms and intricate methods, it can be very easy for the public to be misled. As a science journalist, it is important to seek the truth and be aware of any fraud that could be happening right under the public’s nose.

If a journalist just chooses to cheer on the scientific world, they could be missing some truly important information that the people need to be made aware of. Take, for example, when stories started circulating on the internet saying hot drinks will protect and even cure you of COVID-19.

This influenced a lot of people who were left thinking that a hot cup of tea will be all they need. If it was not for journalists who took this claim seriously, a lot of people might have continued believing it.

This just proves how important it is to be a reliable source of information for communities. Science journalists are not writing to impress the world of science; they are there to protect and keep watch over the people. Therefore, being a mere cheerleader can actually do a lot more harm than good.

Science journalists need to help the public understand science

Telling a story in a way that is legible and understanding will better help an audience comprehend how it relates to them and why those specific scientific findings are so important.

When a journalist is able to write a scientific story in simple language, it influences everyone reading the story in terms of how they will relay the information to friends, family or even colleagues.

This means that they shouldn’t use jargon; they need to use terms that everyone is going to understand and that will keep the public informed and educated. This content also needs to be easily shareable and people need to easily be able to relay the information to anyone without them feeling confused.

This means they can’t write as if they are writing a scientific report — there is a difference. Remember, the purpose of the written piece is to inform the public about what’s happening with that particular topic, and journalists need to keep that in mind. So, although it is factual and objective, it still needs to remain a story.

What are your thoughts on scientific journalism? Do you think they are merely cheerleaders for the scientific world? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Curious to learn why jargon-free content is the way to go? Then check out How to use simple language to amplify your writing.
*Image courtesy of Canva