Daryl Ilbury

The two types of science journalism

In Eish!, Science on July 6, 2012 at 10:18 am

“This quasar’s bleeding snuffed it”

In my opinion there are two types of science journalists: the Dead Parrot Journalists and the Dating Journalists, and they both serve a critical function in capturing and  disseminating the wonders of the natural world; but in totally different ways.

Imagine a dinner party where most of the people don’t know each other. Conversation is polite, maybe a bit reserved, and it swirls around different issues. Then one person points to the roast chicken on the table and says, “This is a dead parrot”. Whereas most people will act bemused and a little confused, there will be a handful who will knowingly laugh, because they get the joke.

They are fans of Monty Python, and will possibly know, word-for-word, the famous Dead Parrot sketch. They will look at each other, gently nod, then connect, and then know that if they form their own group, they will be able to share anecdotes and ideas that will resonate with each other. They will invariably be similar in character and interests. Their role is to keep the energy and interest in Month Python alive.

But anyone who contributes to the discussion will have a tough audience, because there will be people in the group who may or may not know the Monty Python sketches better than they.

At the same, at the same dinner party there are other people meeting for the first time. They will spend most of the evening trying to connect and, carefully, even surreptitiously, project their points of view. Their role is to try and get people interested in them. They are essentially ‘dating’. They also have it tough because they have to sell an unknown topic to someone who may or may not be interested.

Science, like Monty Python, has a small but passionate fan base; and, although they may enjoy the exclusivity of belonging to an informal club, this fan base knows they have to keep its energy flowing and ‘spread the love’, as it were.

Science also suffers from popular ignorance. People either think science doesn’t affect them or, for cultural or religious reasons, reject science. They need to know more about science and its importance.

Science journalists are critical in fulfilling both roles.

Science journalists therefore either write for those who are interested in science, or they write for those who should be interested in science. The first type of journalists know they have a captive audience, and in writing for that audience are responsible for keeping the debate around science alive. They are the Dead Parrot Journalists.

The second type of journalists have to get people interested in science, and to build it’s support base. They are the Dating Journalists.

So…which one are you?

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  1. […] have written about this before, but a recent blog entry on Forbes online by the journalist John McQuaid made me realise how […]

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