Every Journalist should know about Science – a bit

Dear science journalist, please forgive me.
But a two day training is enough for a Jack-of-all-trades journalist. As a journalist, you do not need a degree in “science journalism” or a specialization in science reporting to enable you to report on science matters.

You just need your normal journalism skills – plus a few insights that you could get in a seminar within of one or two days. You do not have to know a certain scientific field. You should know instead about science theory and practical procedures. And about the science business. I will give the headlines of a curriculum for a seminar like this at the end of this article.

If you browse online through the 134 pages strong

you will note that the headline of the guide is misleading. Most of the guide is either focussing on the journalism craft (just taking science as the subject of reporting), or it constitutes in fact training in science communication (which is the other side of the desk, selling science to the public).

Everyday science journalism goes unnoticed

No wonder.

Journalistic practice is soaked full of topics guided by scientific work, but these topics can be covered with the same journalistic working techniques as politics, culture or economics.

I do not call myself a “science journalist”. But in my everyday professional life I frequently use scientific “evidence”.

For my 2012 radio report on the role of the male foreskin (in German) and what it means for men to be circumcised or not I consulted the worldwide medical research database browsing through hundreds of abstracts. I interviewed psychologists, urologists and sexual therapists and members of an Iranian family. Science journalism?

For my report on seaweed as food in Europe I talked to Danish and Icelandish scientists who had done research on the issue, wrote mails to a Japanese expert, inquired with an EU project, and accompanied the Icelandic fisherman Simon on the Fjord. General journalism?

For my consumer advice-TV piece on how to deal with Mediterranean flour moths in your kitchen I had to discern Epestia kuehniella from similar moths, find the correct information on the animals’ life and discard of some of the advice from the president of the European Parisitological Society; he was wrong on it, because he is not the expert on food parasites.

Only one of the three aforementioned reports constitutes “science journalism” in a narrower sense because it was filed to WDR Radio 5′s science programme, and science itself is the issue.

Learn how scientists tick

But to deal with issues like this, it is useful to know about background in the list below. Some of it I know from having studied social sciences myself. Some of the knowledge you usually learn on the job – by observing and asking.

I will share the curriculum of what every journalist should know about science in my next posting – this Tuesday. Tomorrow.

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