EUSJA Testimonials Find Science Journalism In a Serious State of Erosion

During the EUSJA General Assembly 2015 in Stockholm, delegates from throughout Europe assessed the state of the art of science journalism. It revealed a broad scope of definitions, also due […]

Precarious: Many sci  journos cannot live off  science journalism anymore (c) Antonio Calvo

Precarious: Many sci journos cannot live off science journalism anymore (c) Antonio Calvo

During the EUSJA General Assembly 2015 in Stockholm, delegates from throughout Europe assessed the state of the art of science journalism. It revealed a broad scope of definitions, also due to the variety of cultures. Despite of this plurality, the unique base of the profession seems to be threatened by erosion. A decreasing amount of science journalists cannot make a living off science journalism anymore. An increasing number is accepting offers in communication to make up for the loss. It was commonly agreed though that EUSJA, also in its long-standing tradition, has to provide a roof for both, science journalists and communicators, and at the same time start to enforce journalistic training!

  •  His country, by far not the smallest one in Europe, can feed only 15 science journalists, reported one delegate. This is the reason why his science journalistic association has passed a new constitution which welcomes communicators, PR people however are asked to leave. All in all, his association recognizes science journalism as a central benchmark of the profession, assured the delegate
  •  The representative of a significantly larger country observed a critically shrinking market. It allows only ten pure science journalists to make a living.
  •  To make sure that colleagues comply with the standards of journalism an association made up of 15 full-time science journalists requests its member to sign a code of ethics.
  •  Another association with only 21 members admits only science journalists, no PR people, but has a clear focus on being inclusive, asserted the delegate. That shall ease the tension between the two fractions, which in some countries has escalated to a kind of cold war.
  •  Whether science journalists are critics or loudspeakers was already debated at the very first ESOF conference 2004 in Stockholm, remembered an old-timer.
  •  A renown book author about a variety of scientific topics from an Eastern country, who took an active role in breaking away from the Soviet empire, recognizes himself in the first place as an educator. To be an educator and a journalist, responded his colleague from another Eastern country, is no contradiction. But for himself he rather would put the emphasis on being a watchdog.
  •  If independence is the key criterium of a full-blooded science journalist, one Scandinavian delegate wondered, how independent could a science journalist be, with all editorial strings, business-driven interests and controls by the scientific community attached.

    Science journalism is under stress (c) Goede

    Science journalism is under stress (c) Goede

  •  One delegate had principal reservations about current definitions. He warned that defining who is a journalist and who is not one and especially making the frame too narrow could infringe on the freedom of speech.
  •  Another delegate from Central Europe freely admitted that he could not live off science journalism anymore and observed that most members of his association engaged in corporate publishing and PR. He expressed however his belief and faith that both, journalism and communication could be combined and reconciled in EUSJA.
  • This opinion was reinforced by another statement, in which a former president hailed EUSJA as a tolerant bottom-up organization, a true umbrella which molded a whole array of cultural differences in Europe and gave them one voice.
  • The representative of an association in Southern Europe with more than one hundred members stated that only one third are active, many of which engage in PR.
  •  To set off the adverse developments in science journalism a former EUSJA president suggested that EUSJA should provide more solid training. This could prevent the step of many colleagues into PR.
  • Right, sustained another delegate, trying to re-focus: If EUSJA wanted to be an umbrella, it must provide a wide and robust roof, but for both, communicators and science journalists, however strongly emphasize the journalistic branch and contribute to its survival with in-depth trainings.
  • Another delegate regretted that many colleagues are double-faced, call themselves science journalists, but produce pure PR without recognizing, realizing or even not knowing the difference.
  • Increasing dependence on politics and increasing propaganda in the public media was the main concern of a delegate coming from a large Eastern country.
  • In account of these detrimental developments a colleague made a pledge for the dissemination of new survival skills (such as entrepreneurial science journalism).
  • All this made one delegate muse whether there is enough space in Europe to found a second umbrella organization which is solely dedicated to foster a culture of pure science journalism.
  • The last speaker stated that science journalism has altogether disappeared in his very well-to-do Nordic country, that 90 percent of the respective journalistic content relied on one single source and that the nation was rolled over by big interests.
Formula against ailing science journalism: EUSJA must provide  a wide roof for  many cultures, definitions, applications (c) Antonio Calvo

Formula against ailing science journalism: EUSJA must provide a wide roof for many cultures, definitions, applications (c) Antonio Calvo

In the discussion of these statements it was expressed that the testimonials show that the profession, indeed, is under great pressure. One discussant proposed to make these testimonials the foundation of future EUSJA work and to derive proper strategy from this. Another one would like to take these testimonials to Brussels and demand urgent action, such as funds to create a new culture and rescue a severely ailing science journalism. As one participant concluded, condensing the statements to three points:

* We have to make science journalism relevant again,
** keep up our professional skills,

*** proliferate our ethical engagement.

About Wolfgang C. Goede

Wolfgang C. Goede is a science journalist based in Munich, Germany. He is a board member of the German Association of Science Writers TELI.