Journalism: digital world

Can science journalism survive in a digital world?

With the right training and mindset, science journalists may not only survive – they’ll thrive

One in ten EU citizens now uses social media as their main source of news (Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2016). Photo credit: kaboompics, via Pizabay
By Emily Nordvang

Europeans are using social media as a source of news more than ever. In contrast, the readership of printed newspapers has fallen dramatically over the past five years, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report. “The past is gone and we can’t go back to that … there are incredible, exciting, and new ways to tell stories about science,” says Jens Degett, the Copenhagen-based radio host and president of the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA). Recognising this, the 4th European Conference for Science Journalists 2017(ECSJ2017) is offering a training session to equip science journalists to succeed in the age of digital content and social media. 

The Internet and the rise of rapid, 24-hour reporting are frequently blamed for reduced-quality science journalism. There is, however, plenty of room for quality science content online. “I think that science journalism has greatly benefited, and can still benefit more, from the whole playfulness of digital media,” says Georg Dahm, the co-founder of Fail Better Media, which is based in Hamburg, Germany and publishes Substanz, a web-only popular science magazine. He adds that in digital media: “You can try out things, you can experiment.” The success of outlets, such as ILFScience.com and Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell proves that digital media can help to tell vivid stories and explain complex scientific subjects.

With the ever-increasing quantity of science content available online, good stories and high-quality journalism are vital to making content stand out. “People who can tell good stories are extremely popular, and their stories are extremely popular,” notes Degett. Embracing social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can help raise the profile of science content, while image-based platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram can be used to exploit the visual nature of science to capture attention, adds Dahm. 

Besides increasing Internet traffic and click-through rates, social media allows journalists to present a direct window into the life and work of scientists. Journalists can also use these digital media tools to contact sources and find stories. Meanwhile, receiving immediate reader and audience feedback can help keep the content interesting and relevant.

This is important because science journalists need to develop an eye for content that readers will click on and even pay for, says Dahm. “There is a lot of practical, technical and business knowledge [to be gained from the ECSJ2017 training session], but I think a very integral part is also the mindset that I would like to apply to my journalistic colleagues, to think in business terms,” he explains.

Degget concludes that “It is extremely important that we find out how we can use all the opportunities [of the digital age].” With the correct marketing, and by exploiting the opportunities new technologies present, good science journalism can not only survive but thrive online.