The Next Generation of Science Media: Termites, Saplings and Sense-makers.

The following was written for the ABSW features website, and was incorporated into a large piece with contributions from other young journalists, including the very clever chaps at BlueSci Magazine (the Cambridge Science Magazine).  The feature can be found here
 
On May 11th, Jesus College, Cambridge played host to an intimate conference, ‘The Next Generation of Science Media’, welcoming participants from a wide range of companies, and disciplines with science and science communication.  The conference encouraged discussion between all participants and made for a fascinating intensive day of discussion between some of the country’s leading science journalists and many others.

The day began with a session led by John Naughton of the Open University and the Observer, and by Lou Woodley from Nature Publishing group.  The session theme was ‘Science Journalism in the Era of New Media: Opportunities and Challenges’, and it served as an excellent introduction to topics of discussion that were revisited throughout the day.  The ‘new media’ is characterised by the open and individual opportunities created by the internet, as opposed to mainstream print media dominated by large news organisations. The traditional view of science journalists as ‘gate-keepers of science’  must be modified, Naughton said, as ‘they stand at the gate, but there are no longer any fences.’  He added, ‘Science journalists are now curators, guides, navigators and sense-makers.’ Science journalism was metaphorically compared to a densely interconnected ecosystem, with different types of communicators and journalists working together to ‘add value’ to news stories which break more quickly and easily than ever before.  This metaphor was expanded to explain a host of phenomena in new media, including the replacement of the ‘elephants and dinosaurs’ of large mainstream media organisations, by the ‘acid-shooting termites’ that dominate the expansive blogosphere today.  The spread of internet communities was compared with an ecological catastrophe that can wipe out a rainforest ecosystem, and replace it with new populations of saplings (new ideas and approaches to science communication), which must be given time and space to grow and develop, to show their full potential.  Naughton concluded by saying that ‘science writer’ is no longer an accurate term, and in the era of the new media, journalists are should be true ‘multimedia practitioners.’

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