New Media and Science Journalism

Of all the terms coined by journalists, New Media has to be the worst. The problem with the naming is that what was new 10 years ago is not new today. And it won’t be new in a couple of years.

That makes it one of the trickiest terms to identify. We often hear about new media and old media etc. But the question is, what IS new media? Is it internet websites? Or is it blogs? Or maybe it refers to social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

The truth of the matter is, the perception of new media becomes an individual effort. For someone who has worked for the past 30 years in newspapers, internet may be the new type of media. But for someone, like myself, who started work ON the internet, blogs and microblogs may be the new thing.

Regardless of the definition, new media is here to stay. And in these turbulent times for science journalism around the world, it may very well be a savior.

The first use of new media is as a source of information. The internet has quickly become the richest – and fastest – source of news. Science journalists can quickly find stories at their fingertips. Sometimes they can even get them as they are happening.

And as the economic crisis deepens, the importance of the internet as a communication tool rises. It may not be as feasible as it was before to travel around the world to collect stories.

But the internet can be a rich medium to facilitate such discussions. Social networks can be used to reach experts or laypersons in almost every country in the world. I remember one story I was working on concerning Libya and I primarily used Facebook to reach Libyans to hear their stories. This gave the story its edge, because other reporters failed to reach people on the street in Libya.

Virtual worlds – such as Second Life – are also a rich area for human interaction. Their virtual nature makes them second only to real life contact. Such tools can help give a human angle to a story when it becomes tricky to do this face-to-face.

The second application of new media is to spread your own work. Using services such as Twitter, you can tell tens of thousands of people about your newest piece. And the nature of social networks is built on the idea of communities. This means that these people will most probably be interested in the same topics as you, making it even more effective since it’s directed correctly.

Finally, there is the potential of the internet as a networking tool. Networks such as the “Research and Media Network,” have become a powerful resource and reference. This is especially valuable for science communicators from the developing world. Since they usually have much lower financial resources, such networks become invaluable for them. For example, when working on a story of an international nature, they can seek help from other journalists from their respective countries.

They also become important tools for all of us to learn from each other, thus we all collectively become better.

Whether we accept and adopt New Media or not, it is here to stay. And whether we can make sense of the term or not, it is also here to stay. So what it will come down to is: how can we, as science journalists, make the best of this new era of media?