Unser schleichender Tod

Wissenschafts- und Technikjournalismus – ein Auslaufmodell?

james_cornell1 Jim Cornell ist ein jovialer Ire. Gemein- und Familiensinn sind ihm wichtiger als manchem Südeuropäer und Südamerikaner. Deshalb ist der US-Amerikaner ein Leben lang auch in Verbänden ehrenamtlich tätig gewesen, seit über einem Jahrzehnt bereits als Präsident der Internationalen Science Writers Association ISWA. Bei internationalen Begegnungen hat er unter Journalisten den Rang eines „Elder Statesman“, dessen Wort Gewicht hat, weil er jedes belegen kann. Seit Jahren warnt er vor dem schleichenden Tod unserer Branche. Im vorweihnachtlichen ISWA-Newsletter wartet Cornell mit Zahlen auf, die wenig festlich stimmen: Immer weniger US-Kollegen können vom Journalismus leben (siehe unten) – in Europa und Deutschland haben wir ähnliche Trends. Der Technik- und Wissenschaftsjournalismus – ein Auslaufmodell?

„In 2004, I was asked by Kenji Makino to describe the state of US science journalism for a publication planned to celebrate the founding of the Japanese science journalism association. My assessment of the situation then and my prediction for what the future might hold were both pessimistic. Unfortunately, I was even more prescient than I could have imagined—or wished.

All the negative trends I described then—the decline of science coverage by traditional news media, the growth of Web-based science and technology information sites, and the migration of science reporters from media staff positions to freelance or, worse, to public relations and marketing positions—have continued unabated. The only surprise may be the speed with which these developments occurred.

In less than five years, the situation has gone from dismal to dreadful. Of the 2500 members of the (US) National Association of Science Writers, now only some 80 are full-time staff writers with media outlets. Of the 100 major US metropolitan daily newspapers, only 25 still publish regular science sections. In 2009, those same top newspapers saw an average decline in circulation of 10 percent, with some individual papers experiencing declines of more than 20 percent. One of the country’s leading cable news networks—CNN, whose international broadcasts are seen worldwide—disbanded its entire science and technology team, including an award-winning space reporter. And science coverage on other national commercial television networks—except for personal health and weather disasters—is nearly nonexistent.

The future remains unclear, but, even at best, not particularly bright. Still, there is some hope that quality science reporting may find a niche in the diverse, if fragmented, digital media landscape. Indeed, several “journalism collaboratives,” often linking freelance journalists with academic institutions or other non-profit organizations to cover specialties ranging from medicine to foreign affairs to politics, have found small but supportive audiences. Although no science journalism collaborative has yet emerged, Kaiser Health News, a medical news enterprise, could serve as a model.

For more about the rise and fall and possible rise again of general journalism—and by extension, science journalism—in the United States, I recommend a report done for the Columbia Journalism Review entitled “THE RECONSTRUCTION OF AMERICAN JOURNALISM,” by Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson.

And readers who would like to track journalistic trends into the future—and perhaps gauge the success of the suggestions made by Downie and Schudson or measure the accuracy of my pessimism—may want to check the annual survey conducted by the Pew Project on Excellence in Journalism.“

–James Cornell
December 2009

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