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As science news declines, Huff Post France showcases research

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As science news declines, Huff Post France showcases research

The launch is on the heels of a major decline in science journalism. Faced with budget cuts, news groups such as CNN have laid off entire science and technology units. Between 1989 and 2005, the number of news organizations with weekly science sections dropped from 95 to 34, Chris Mooney of Science Progress reported.

A 2008 Pew report cited by Mooney found that for every five hours of cable news, only one minute is devoted to science and technology coverage, compared to 10 minutes of celebrity and entertainment news and about a half hour or more of crime. Only 12 percent of Americans now learn about science news from newspaper and magazine websites, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study found.

Yet despite their stingy media coverage, innovations are happening in science every day.

“The explosion of knowledge in science right now is amazing,” said Ron Winslow, president of the National Association of Science Writers, in an interview with Poynter. “[...] The idea that we don’t really devote enough journalistic resources in translating this to consumers is a real dilemma for us.”

Têtes Chercheuses went live last Wednesday and now features several articles about subjects including solar wind on Mars and how to encourage people to live healthier lives. The goal is to “popularise academic research alongside the opinion blogs,” a release said.

“The integration of these contributions of researchers among the opinion blogs that make up the DNA of HuffPost illustrates well what we are trying to do: give voice to the most legitimate experts on a subject and create a bridge between the specialists and the public at large,” said Paul Ackermann, editor-in-chief of Le Huffington Post said in a statement (translated from French).

To promote submissions, Le Huffington Post partnered with several French schools and universities, including L'École Normale Supérieure de Cachan, l’École Polytechnique, HEC Paris, Sciences Po et l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie, according to a release. But a blog announcing the site’s launch says Têtes Chercheuses now welcomes submissions from other institutions.

Guidelines for submissions from L’Ecole Polytechnique said the articles must be “short and educational” and written with the general public in mind. A successful entry will use multimedia “as often as possible” and emphasize the research’s global impact, the guidelines say.

Indeed, a major issue for science news is is “translating” technical jargon to be digestible, Winslow said. This dilemma has prevented many science stories from appearing in mainstream media outlets.

“Personally, I think that editors and news organizations generally underestimate the interest and ability of readers to handle and be interested in science topics,” Winslow said.

Another challenge with reporting science news is that its often overhyped. The “holy grails” and “missing links” news organizations report about rarely actually exist, said Dennis Overbye, a “cosmic affairs correspondent” for The New York Times.

“It’s hard to be balanced and discriminating and still convey some excitement to the reader,” he said in an interview with Poynter.

Readers don’t appear to be as invested in science news as other sections. Mooney wrote that when Toronto Star science reporter Peter Calamai was laid off in 2008, no one called to protest. He suggested that if a horoscope or sports page was cut, outrage would be palpable. But he argues that science touches every aspect of life, and news organizations are shortchanging readers by not adequately covering it.

“[Science journalism] should help us forecast the future — and prepare us for it,” he said. “Without such forward-looking journalism, we run a grave risk of not seeing what’s coming until it’s too late.”

Moreover, considering the amount of taxpayer money allotted for scientific research, the decline in science reporting could stifle democracy, nonprofit advocacy group Wisconsin Stem Cell Now argued.

To save science reporting, it’s critical to make articles sharable, Winslow said.

The Huffington Post, known for its social aspects, may help to do just that.

Author

Kira Witkin

Date

2013-06-18 13:30

Author information

The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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