Observations: The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again

26 January 2011

I should be going bed now but could not wait until tomorrow morning to post this fantastic article by Bora Zivkovic about the history of science and journalism told through the lens of the development of new media –Observations: The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again.:

It is 2010. The Internet has been around for 30 years, the World Wide Web for 20. It took some time for the tools to develop and spread, but we are obviously undergoing a revolution in communication. I use the word “revolution” because it is so almost by definition – when the means of production change hands, this is a revolution.

The means of production, in this case the technology for easy, cheap and fast dissemination of information, are now potentially in the hands of everyone. When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, we call that ‘citizen journalism.’ And some of those citizens possess much greater expertise on the topics they cover than the journalists that cover that same beat. This applies to science as well.

In other words, after the deviation that was the 20th century, we are going back to the way we have evolved as a species to communicate – one-to-one and few-to-few instead of one-to-many. Apart from technology (software instead of talking/handwriting/printing), speed (microseconds instead of days and weeks by stagecoach, railroad or Pony Express, see image above) and the number of people reached (potentially – but rarely – millions simultaneously instead of one person or small group at a time), blogging, social networking and other forms of online writing are nothing new – this is how people have always communicated. Like Montaigne. And the Republic of Letters in the 18th century. And Charles Darwin in the 19th century.

His account of this history touches on a number of important issues for think tanks today; in particular the shared history of research and journalism, and the new potential capacity to communicate with our audiences directly -with no intermediaries or filters. The same technologies provide our audiences with the tools to design their own filters and become intelligent (critical) consumers of information (I found this following some links on twitter, by the way: you can follow onthinktanks too).

In Zivkovic’s account, scientists are re-learning how to communicate with non-scientists and taking advantage of the simplicity of blogs, twitter, wikipedia, etc. In the social sciences the same thing is happening. VoxEU (I’ll blog about this some other day) is a perfect example of a direct communication channel between economists and their audiences -good content, an editor and the web platform are all that is needed: no communication managers, complex communication strategies, media strategies, media contacts, etc.

After all, free from the pressure of the traditional media and the need to reach as large an audience as possible, these new media channels allow researchers/scientists to target niche groups of genuinely interested people. And this provides an excellent opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships –stronger ties– and engage in proper conversations that facilitate the communication of complex ideas.

Anyway, it is a long article -but worth reading.