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Sunday, 19 April 2009

EDITORIAL: Do let’s argue

The future of The Science Reporter

The first issue of The Science Reporter (TSR) that I remember seeing, back in the mid ‘90s, contained a slanging match between Bill O’Neill, then of The Guardian, and Roger Highfield, then of The Daily Telegraph, about broken embargoes during that year’s BA (now the British Science Association) meeting. Highfield was complaining that O’Neill’s ‘preview’ of the event the week before had made it impossible for anyone else to run stories during the conference because they were seen as old news (all I can remember about O’Neill’s position was that he had no regrets and that he was somewhat dismissive of Highfield’s use of his title: Dr).

If anything convinced me that I had made the right decision in joining the ABSW, it was this exchange.

This is why, when I was asked to take over TSR, my first thought was that every issue should start with a debate of some real issue about the process of writing about science and technology. You’ll see the first of these debates ⎯ on whether we rely too much on press releases ⎯ in this issue. Participate: tell us what you think of the arguments and share your own experience/insights via the comments feature. Also, please contact me. I’d like to know what you think of the idea of debates in general, how well or badly we handled this one in particular, and to get your suggestions for future debates and possible participants. To get you thinking, you can see a first-draft list at the end of this editorial.

We’ve also tried to include in the newsletter all the major features that were in the old printed version: books, events, news, features, new members etc. (heartfelt thanks to all those who helped us put it together). If there’s a section you feel we should have that we don’t, let me know. And of course, if at any point there’s something you think that we should be covering, let us know that too (preferably before the fact rather than after).

Finally, a quick note on form. As you’ll see in Mike Nagle’s news piece, we’re in the middle of a major redesign of the website, which will eventually incorporate all our various methods of communication. The HTML newsletter that got you to this blog is an interim measure that we expect to last 2-3 issues. We may do something similar in future, or something very different. For instance, among other things we’re considering using an automated system to create PDFs because we know that some people like to have something they can print out and read on paper. If you feel strongly about this, now is the time to let us know your opinion.

Let me finish by saying that I hope you enjoy this issue and, if you don’t, I hope you’ll tell me why: either by e-mailing me or by leaving a comment here.

Sunny Bains
Editor, The Science Reporter

Possible debate topics:
  • Is medical journalism really science journalism?
  • Do embargoes help produce better science coverage?
  • Is there more PR influence in science and technology than many other topics?
  • Can you write well about scientific papers you can't understand?
  • Do you always have to hype a science and technology story to get it published?
  • Is it ethical to accept places on press junkets?
  • Is the technical (rather than popular) press the place to find real journalism?