Colin Schultz has an interesting post on science reporting, in which he bemoans how science journalism has become a small niche and is not consumed by a wider audience:
The issue of recognizing and confronting the fact that not everyone is interested in science is where niche journalism programs like the one at NYU can falter. Jabr remembers the awkward, glazed-over eyes he used to find staring back at him when he tried to share his enthusiasm about science. But when you are surrounded by a tight-knit group of like minded people, it is easy to forget how wildly interests can vary….
The big problem is that this tight-knit group expands far beyond the walls of the class room. People who are interested in science form their own virtual subcultures.
“I’ve sort of discovered this whole online community of science communicators. And it’s amazing – they’re always talking to each other, and they’re always producing great work, and I love being a part of that community online, or trying to be,” said Jabr.
“But sometimes I do wonder if – I wonder about the other spheres. Are they intersecting with this science communication sphere at all? Or is it just sort of its own bubble. And I hope it’s not, and I don’t think that it entirely is, but at the same time there isn’t a huge effort to reach out to overlap with the other spheres on there,” said Jabr.
To this online group of science communicators, science is inherently interesting, and requires no justification to be discussed. But here is where the ultimate problem lies – the people who are interested and willing to research and report on science have a ready-made audience of people who are already interested in science.
It’s great to have a market, but where is the need to reach outside of it to report, not on scientific breakthroughs, but on the concerns of the rest of society?
I’ve heard similar complaints before. As a scientist, I’ve come to terms with the notion that most people want the Cliff notes version.
Working on microbiological questions, I can tell you when some people ask me what I do, I typically get three reactions:
1) They look nervous, perhaps because they believe I will infect them with something.
2) They ask for the ‘Cliff notes’ summary, and then make it pretty clear they don’t really want to know much more; this is the majority response.
3) They proceed to tell me all about that nasty urinary tract infection they had last month. I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THIS. But thanks for sharing! (This has actually happened.)
Woe is the scientist. But is this really any different than for any other profession? Political scientists, economics, legal scholars, historians all have the same complaint. Most professions believe that if people spent more time learning about their subject area, we would be better off. And probably we would be. But the ‘eat your spinach’ motivation for journalism of any type isn’t going to fly (if it ever has), especially in an era where it’s really easy to access more entertaining information. How many people really read every news article to its end?
I’ve come to grips with this personally. I’m not sure what this means for the science news business, but I don’t see it as a crisis for science itself.