Journalism is a form of communication based on asking, and answering a number of questions relating to Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? and is therefore a job. According to Harcup, journalism informs the society about itself and makes public that which would otherwise be private. The journalists are normally expected to supply information, comment and amplify on matters that are already in the public domain. In the effort to perform this responsibility, many journalists do not even understand the concepts of what they pass on to the public and this could be due to their involvement in the communication industry unlike researching in the particular fields on which they are reporting (2009).
Science journalism is currently concerned with reporting on scientific matters and conveying the information either given or obtained from science oriented-sources to the general public. According to both Boyce Rensberger and Toby Murcott, communication to the public the right information is very important and that the science journalists must be or even show interest in the public. Murcott says that world over, scientist, educators, and policy makers rightly call for more public understanding or awareness of science. He states that genuine public awareness of science includes an understanding of how scientific knowledge is crafted and that the public must be communicated to what is correct for their benefit (2009).
Murcott clearly states that most science journalists believe that the sources are very credible enough such as not to warrant any further search for analysis or critique into the scientific information. Most journalists, he says, talk to the main contributors of the releases asking only a few supplementary questions but rarely create the time or acquire expertise to get the full story or how an item or research came to be and how it impacts or helps generally. This is unlike other journalists who venture into the research, trying to determine the cause and effects of any information they obtain from the so called “main contributors”. In essence, Murcott is very categorical to assert that most science journalists do not have the time and expertise to critically and analytically review any of the sources of information before it is passed on to the public. According to Murcott, the priest perception sets in on most journalists where they “just translated what scientists said”. He likens this to a priest who takes “information from a source of authority and communicating it to the congregation” who may not be in a position to determine whether the information conveyed to them was right or even beneficial. The congregation in this case refers to the general public who rely on science journalist to pass on to them information as scientists have authored (2009).
Contrasting science journalists and political journalist, Murcott gives an example of debates where the journalists take part in contribution of expert commentary as equals to the politicians by highlighting strengths, weaknesses and potential pitfalls of policy ideas in result critiquing their work and any mistakes, inconsistencies and contradictions. This implies that science journalism needs to be upgraded not just being a master - spokesman kind of relation where the master is the scientist and the spokesperson being the science journalist supposed not to question the integrity or authenticity of the sources of their information even if there are any contradictions or mistakes.
Rensberger presents a situation of conflict of interest within the journalism industry using a case he calls “Too close for comfort” an impression created of journalist sticking too close to their sources than they ought to be hence they do not get the comfort that journalism and integrity of reporting should provide. According to Rensberger, are “unable to deliver a disinterested analysis of the field” since they tend to side with the scientists who do the research and are believed to be right and cannot be questioned (2009).
In support of Murcott, Rensberger believes that science journalists must be in a position to translate scientists’ jargon engaging in scientific findings in order to include the non-specialist who happens to be the general public. He gives an example of Van Anda, a science journalist who at some point in reporting stressed the need for accuracy which means that journalists must endevour to create the time to research and determine the behind the scenes of scientific research before reporting. Van Anda, according to Rensberger, an astronomy and physics graduate corrected a mathematical error in a lecture of Albert Einstein’s that the New York Times was about to publish by consulting with Einstein himself.
Contrasting science journalism of the present day with the previous ages, Rensberger says that most “reporters in those days consisted largely of translating jargon and explaining the statements of scientists and medical leaders not very different from the priest model confirmed by Murcott in his article “Toppling the Priesthood” (2009).
In comparison to what Murcott believes science journalists of Rensberger’s article were more into the business of identity search, and being in the same class as the scientists emphasizing on the wonders of science and respect of scientist rather than analyzing the work being done by the scientists to determine any effects of science on the society. In these times science journalism is being treated more as a prestigious job calling themselves writers rather than journalists or reporters. Rensberger states that many scientist believe in recognition from scientists and “throughout much of the period (1937-1949) science reporters encouraged the mythos. As asserted by Lewenstein, “that the proper relationship between scientists and science writers was one of trust and respect” as was witnessed by the invitation of a science journalist to the Pentagon, to be the only reporter. This brings about the conflict of interest where the science journalist called Lawrence epitomized the best in science journalism but also went against the principles of integrity to communicate truth and welcome criticisms. This was a typical example of the “trust and respect” relationship Rensberger talked about.
It is important to realize the revolution of science journalism where during the 1950s, it emphasized scientific discovery over practical and social implications. The science journalists wanted to make the field more effective implying more public appreciation of science and not them being the “watchdog of the field” and according to Rensberger many news executives began to distrust their own science reporters and medical writers. Radical science writers such as Rachel Carson, began to criticize some research and exposing her findings in the 1960s were for the interest and benefit of the public while some of her science writers openly attacked her even though her contribution led to the establishment of environmentalist movement and reporting in the field of environment. In the 1970s many science journalist saw the need to criticize and there was no way to ignore the social and political implications of the various science topics resulting to the “Watchdog Age” and then to the “Digital Age” where scientist can for themselves publish on the web, bypassing the journalist and directly communicating their findings, interested or not, to the vulnerable public who may not be able to tell which sources are authentic and truthful.
In conclusion both Rensberger and Murcott have similar reasoning on the aspect of science journalist gaining relevance by learning enough science to enable them analyze and interpret the findings inclusive of the founders’ motives to ensure that any potential implications, whether social, political or economic, of the new technologies are communicated to the public.