Science journalism in China8th March 2007
Science journalism in China is on the decline, in spite of a boom in scientific research, prompting officials to call on the country's propaganda czars to boost coverage in official media outlets.
"But," writes Hepeng Jia in a commentary on SciDev.net, "while their cause is justifiable, the profession — and science communication as a whole — needs to rethink the role of science reporting in China if it is to gain the recognition it deserves."
The obstacles science reporters face differ according to the type of media they write for: official or commercial, Jia says.
While the market-oriented media, which rely on popularity and advertising revenues to stay afloat, have contributed to better reporting in some areas, science, apparently, doesn't pay.
"Many commercial media editors think that the public feel science is too dry and complicated. This view has spread to editors in the official media," Jia says.
"A casual glance at science articles in the official media reveals ample use of difficult scientific terms and swathes of text boasting about the political achievements of Chinese research. What is often lacking, or inadequately expressed, is an explanation of how and why the research is relevant to the public at large."
Another problem is a widespread perception that science journalism caters for the science community, not the public.
"Perhaps China's science journalists lack the right type of education, training and patience to write readable science stories. But the blame does not lie solely with them. They are forced by a system that does not feel it is a priority to explain why a story is important to the public," says Jia.
Jia concludes that this is partly because of wider issues with the country's science funding. "Projects meeting grandiose scientific goals are often prioritised over projects scientists themselves would choose, effectually hampering their instinct to explore the unknown."
Jia suggests more research funds are needed to encourage scientists to explain their work to the public, and that those who write press releases should take more time to explain their significance. And science journalists should spend more time writing readable stories for the public instead of trumpeting China's achievements.
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