Day 329. An open letter

In July 2013 on July 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm


Dear fellow members of the Australian Science Communicators,

I too am very interested in considering perpectives on science journalism and science communication, and how the two interrelate.

It interests me on a personal level because I’m trying to work out where I fit along the science writing continuum. However of course there are also bigger implications. Implications for:

  • How we (the people who talk about science) define our goals;
  • How we, governments and consumers make decisions about who pays for communication and journalism content;
  • How the public interprets material with a scientific flavour; and
  • Whether this material has the desired or indeed any impact.

I’ve written a few blog posts in recent weeks trying to get my brain around aspects of this. (If you’re interested, it started with Journalism is dead?, then progressed to Journalism versus communication and finally resulted in this duo: Profile of a science journalist and Profile of a science communicator. Of course my descriptions are not perfect – please add comments if you feel so inspired).

Whilst I’ve found the process of writing these posts helpful in clarifying my own thoughts, of course now I have more questions.

What I’m really interested in is the intersection of the two specialities, communication and journalism. Here are some issues which plague me:

  • In writing and reading job definitions or descriptions, how can one distinguish between a ‘science journalist’ and a ‘science communicator’?
  • Can one person effectively swap from writing as a journalist (for example, for a newspaper) to writing as a communicator (for example, for a science institution)?
    i.e. is switching from relatively unbiased to somewhat biased writing a comfortable transition?
  • Is it important that science writers themselves have an awareness of the difference between science journalism and science communication?
  • How can readers of science writing tell the difference between science journalism and science communication?

Related questions are being raised in other arenas as well: see this piece by Matthew Ingram entitled Thanks to the web, journalism is now something you do – not something you are which explores the relationships between advocacy/activism and journalism.

Getting back to the ASC, are these questions important for us to consider as a community of people who talk about science in public spaces? I think yes, and I’m hoping this may come up as a potential topic for the ASC conference in February 2014. In addition to hearing from communicators and journalists who are ASC members, it’d be great to invite ‘outsiders’ along to get their perspectives as well.

I’m looking forward to the conference.



I posted this letter to the Australian Science Communicators email list July 8 2013

[image thanks to Markus Reinhardt on flickr]


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