When Science Journalism meets Citizen Journalism

This article was written by Chao-Ping Hong (Taiwan), a Master student in the science journalism course at Delft University of Technology. Her assignment was to write an opinion article about the influence of citizen journalism on science journalism. I hope her fresh take will inspire you.

Twitter, hyperlinks, comments. Type, click, and send.  Without doubt, the evolution of technologies has brought us to a new media era, one that says “citizen journalism.”

From climate change to nanotechnology, bio food to energy plants, citizen journalism is shaking and shaping the structure of traditional science journalism. When discussing the risks and opportunities of citizen journalism with regard to science journalism, we, as science journalists, should rethink the nature and objectives of science journalism. “Should we question whether there has been a paradigm shift in the dominant belief system?” asked Denis Ruellan in “To think ‘citizen journalism’”.

The answer would definitely be yes. In fact, there seems to be various critical challenges as well as opportunities when it comes to citizen journalism, where neutrality and objectivity are most often questioned and discussed.

But, as science journalists, we shouldn’t regard citizen journalism as a threat. We should see it rather as a reinforcement which will bring forth opportunities in the re-creation of science journalism.

Engaging Participation
When we look at science journalism from a communication angle, citizen journalism can certainly inspire public participation of science. Take blogging as an example. The gathered force of human powers is creating dynamic agendas to meet the public’s demand to learn, understand and talk about science.

“Blogs offer a diverse range of sources and contributing citizen commentators, which is not possible through modern corporate mainstream outlets”, said Dr. Linda Kenix in “Blogs as Alternative”. Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU, says in his weblog PressThink that blogging provides freedom of the press sphere, creating an “open” system to everyone. With the alliance of citizen journalism, science and technology information would become more closely related to people’s lives, initiating and engaging more participants in discussions of science.

Generating Perspectives
Furthermore, citizen journalism could easily crack down the “hard science” to a wider spectrum of topics. The variety of opinions in citizen journalism could place science in a more ethical, social perspective, whereas traditional coverage of science news is mainly focused on technical views and factual details.

At ethics forums, heated discussions and debates spark over controversial issues such as nanotechnology, life-science, robotics, etc. Also, through comments and real-time feedbacks, readers have equal opportunities to react to technology issues, such as the government’s change of policy in the regulation of CO2 consumption or implementation of nuclear power plants.

Our Roles in the Re-creation of Science Journalism
Citizen journalism is a rapidly growing phenomenon that will inevitable challenge the nature of science journalism. Thus, as science journalists, embracing citizen journalism and its opportunities also means that we have to adapt ourselves to this paradigm shift intelligently.

We will have to learn to encompass and also filter out various sources efficiently in the dynamic information era, be familiarized with different means of media (forums, blogs, etc.), equip ourselves continuously with scientific knowledge, and be fully prepared to meet feedbacks from enthusiastic readers.

Most of all, we should always be thinking and practicing the important elements: objectivity and neutrality, with open perspectives and passions in communicating science to our readers.

When science journalism meets citizen journalism, it’s time for us to seek the potentials and opportunities in the re-creation of science journalism.