Finding balance between daily reporting, narratives

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Still basking in the glow of her AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award, PLoS blogger and independent journalist Hillary Rosner returned from the AAAS annual meeting with some ruminations on preserving and expanding diversity in the science news ecosystem. She notes that she and many of her fellow award-winners earned their spots because publications gave them the time and space to create long-form narratives, pieces which she points out are powerful anecdotes to the quick-turn-around-no-follow-up churning so lamented by John Rennie in his recent (and justifiably well-circulated) column.

Rosner seeks to balance this apparent narrative supremacy with Charlie Petit’s assertion, over at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, that the profession is suffering because so few publications can afford to send reporters to conferences like AAAS from which they can file fast-breaking reports. It’s an issue Petit called “the abandonment of daily science reporting. esp. when it requires expense account, by all but a handful of US newspapers.”

It’s a point Rosner acknowledges, but she’s not willing to concede that all is lost, especially if the decline in daily reporting frees up resources for long-term narrative work.

I agree about the general trend. But I’m not sure I agree that there’s anything bad about fewer reports from a conference where scientists are often presenting general findings as opposed to new research. Just because a scientist says something at a session or at a news conference doesn’t make it news. (And while I’m not a daily-news kind of journalist, I like to think I still have a sense of what’s newsworthy.)

Science journalism needs a mix of really well-done daily deadline reporting and longer, thought-out, exhaustively reported narrative stories. The two are completely different beasts occupying different niches, and we should make every effort to protect them both, by ensuring that there’s habitat to sustain them.

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