Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed how science journalists work?
A focus on the selection and use of sources during the pandemic, and on the relation between journalists and scientists
In 2021 SciDev.net, a well-established online science outlet celebrated its 20th anniversary. For the occasion, they commissioned a special report on the status of global science journalism. The main part of the Global Science Journalism Report focuses on the working conditions and practices of the job. But it also looks at the ethical side of the profession in different contexts and the future expectations of the more than 500 respondents. A profession and a practice that Ben Deighton, the managing editor of SciDev.net, thinks “matters now more than ever” in the opening contribution of the celebrative special magazine anniversary issue
Deighton refers to the fact that the report came out just after the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when science journalism has been put under the spotlight as never before in such a global perspective.
The last chapter of the Global Science Journalism Report focuses on the consequences of the pandemic on science journalism. The replies of the respondents highlighted how a global crisis such as this one had directly affected the way science journalists work, with potentially disruptive consequences that could be here to stay. Here is a selection of them.
- When reporting on Covid-19-related topics, science journalists focused more than usual on peer-reviewed articles and on national institutions.
- 55% of the respondents say they used, or have used, pre-prints as sources for their stories. Only in Africa and in the Middle East the results are reversed, and many of the respondents underlined that in the case of pre-prints, they might contain provisional results.
- 59% of the respondents that used pre-prints say that they changed their procedures, for example providing a warning that the papers have not been peer-reviewed.
- 64% of them also declared that they take false news into account when producing their stories.
Relationships with information sources
- 49% of the respondents said that during the pandemic scientists have been more easily available. Only in the USA and Canada, science journalists didn’t notice a difference in the availability of scientists.
- 37% of the science journalists contacted say that due to the pandemic, scientists are more open and talkative. Another 37% say there is no difference, while only 27% think scientists are more cautious than before.
Global Science Journalism Report is available for free in PDF format from the SciDev.net website.
The report has been produced by SciDev itself in collaboration with the Brazilian Institute of Public Communication of Science and Technology/House of Oswaldo Cruz, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Brazil), London School of Economics (UK), and ISCTE–Lisbon University Institute (Portugal), and with the collaboration of other institutions from around the world.
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