The pandemic hasn’t been easy on science journalism and the media’s future with it on the Internet. Fast-paced news and confusing terminologies are not the only culprits. Find out more about how science journalism fits into the context of the Internet.
Science and journalism have never gone well together. Should you be a journalist to talk about science? Should you be an expert in the field of science to be given a platform in media? Do you have to be both? It doesn't help, too, that there are plenty of fake news, non-credible sources, and unsubstantiated claims on the Internet. Some of these are malicious. Many are straight-up crazy.
The pandemic also thrust reporters into unfamiliar ground. Politics and economics to them have always been easier. Science is another matter altogether. Even statistics are more welcome than science, and journalists hate mathematics as everyone can attest. But with the fast-paced news spread across multiple social media channels and news outlets, it is impossible for the media not to get overwhelmed. How did they deal with it?
Complex Scientific Discussions
Before the pandemic, complex science topics are reserved for reporters in the science and technology beat. These journalists have backgrounds in sciences-whether medical, engineering, chemistry, and many more. During the height of the pandemic, every journalist has to talk about COVID-19 and its impact on their coverages. Economic reporters are writing about social distancing measures and what it means for businesses. Political reporters are discussing the pressure on officials to address public distress.
It wasn't easy to put context into these stories, especially if the context is as complicated as the working of the virus and how the body responds to it. Many journalists found themselves researching messenger RNA (mRNA) when Pfizer said it was using that new technology for its COVID-19 vaccine. Some even have to discuss the role of SARS-CoV-2 Spike-ACE2 inhibitor screening kits in testing new drug candidates and identifying assays to find a way to block the entrance of SARS-CoV-2 to the host cells.
The ability of journalists to simplify these concepts is a matter of life and death. The public, most of all, needs to understand how important it is to follow government guidelines. You can only fight fake news and theories with scientific truths and empirical data.
How the Internet, Digital Marketing, and Websites Played Their Roles Well
The journalists' ability to tap the vast resources of the Internet is what finally separated them from bloggers rely on what they hear rather than on research. Journalists had to learn how to separate the buzz from the actual experts. They subscribed to newsletters from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many more international agencies.
Journalists also used basic marketing strategies to put their accurate news front and center of Google's search results. If you search for keywords related to the pandemic, the top search results would be those from WHO, CDC, government agencies, medical journals, and legitimate media outlets. You will rarely find a blog on the search results.
To get to the top of the ranking, traditional media outlets have to learn the power of search engine optimization (SEO) and metadata. They have to add infographics, animation, videos, and podcasts to their web pages, so these will come out on top. To spread the truth, media outlets needed to adapt their game to digital marketing strategies that retail stores are using.
The Gatekeeper's Nightmare
The media-whether traditional or digital-always had such great power over the public. Being in the middle of a pandemic was never an ideal situation for an industry badly beaten by digitization. It was so much easier for journalists to fight fake news with the truth without social media in the mix. Today, rising above the noise of rebuttals and criticisms is like walking into a lion's den. You're almost 100% sure you won't come out of it alive.
And yet, journalists soldiered on. They had to find different means to fight against misinformation. Science journalism, specifically, is tricky, challenging, and subject to wrong interpretation. But whether in wars, economic crises, and global pandemics, the media wields a kind of power only those in the industry can understand.
More than being a journalist, or a scientist, or both, science journalism needs to be handled by people who are good at what they do-simplifying complex messages, verifying data, and filtering what fits a breaking news story and what should be heavily discussed over the weekend in a special report story. This is what separates science journalism from all the other coverage. It demands accuracy more than anything because when you're talking about a health pandemic, a simple grammatical mistake can lead to deaths.