Jean-François CLICHE, Journal le Soleil, Quebec
Katharina NIEMEYER, Université du Québec, Canada
Yves SCIAMA, AJSPI, France
Luisa MASSARANI, National Institute of Public Communication of Science and Technology, Brazil
Although all actors agree that science journalism is in crisis, attempting to reach a consensus on the factors that led to such a situation – or that perpetuate it – and its consequences is proving to be far more difficult. Debates are lively between the journalists themselves, forced to juggle on a daily basis with the contradictions inherent in such a situation, since they are the first to confront it. But discussions are just as animated between researchers who study the evolution of the press and science magazines, since such observers often operate from different theoretical positions, and so are the conversations between researchers and journalists.
This plenary brings together two journalists and two researchers so that they may exchange views, both on their respective positions and on their individual understanding of this crisis. Without presupposing the arguments they will be developing, we can nevertheless recall at random a few of the reasons frequently put forward by actors and researchers:
• The advent of digital technology has altered the media landscape, particularly the world of, and market for, the press and printed magazines.
• New actors, from all backgrounds: science journalism professionals, amateurs and lay people now routinely publish on the Internet; this blurs boundaries, concertinas frames of reference, and is redrawing the boundaries as regards legitimacy, authority and reputation.
• The prevalence of social media increases the scope of false information and rumours since these coexist with information validated by the established media, and internet users are not necessarily able to distinguish between them or assess the reliability of their sources.
• In the wider society of communications where information proliferates, contrary to the promise of transparency, the increased number of options for accessing information on reality results in its abstraction and confusion.
• Public relations services, now deployed in almost all major organisations – corporations, universities, public administrations, etc. – are developing communications policies and strategies. The result is a standardisation of scientific messages, produced and circulated using a marketing approach that intensifies promotional scientific discourse. This shift is eroding the vision of scientific research in the public interest and is contributing to a possible reduction in scientists’ freedom of speech.
• The trend towards concentration in the media is often accompanied by a reduction in staff, frequently to the detriment of expert science journalists. In addition, combined with platform integration, it is contributing to the erosion of journalists’ independence by blurring the distinction between information and communication.
These few disparate elements of discourse, briefly summarised, demonstrate that the current crisis in science journalism is structural, and not merely a temporary convulsion.