This issue of the Journal of Science Communication raises a number of questions about the ways that new scientific research emerges from research institutions and in particular the role played by scientists, press officers and journalists in this process. This is not to suggest that the public don’t play an equally important role, and several articles in this issue raise questions about public engagement, but to explore the dynamics at play in one specific arena: that of news production. In this editorial I explore the increasing reliance of science journalists on public relations sources and consider what questions this raises for science communication.
Michael Brüggemann, Sven Engesser
This study focuses on climate journalists as key mediators between science and the public sphere. It surveys journalists from five countries and five types of leading news outlets. Despite their different contexts, journalists form an interpretive community sharing the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and agreeing on how to handle climate change skeptics. This consensus is particularly strong among a core of prolific writers while climate change skepticism persists among a periphery of occasional writers. The journalists’ attitudes toward climate change are connected to their usage of sources, indicating that interpretive communities include journalists and scientists.
Sara Shipley Hiles, Amanda Hinnant
This study investigated how highly experienced environmental journalists view the professional norms of objectivity when covering climate change over time. Elite journalists were sought, and all had a minimum of 10 years of experience in climate coverage. In-depth interviews revealed a paradox: Most still profess belief in objectivity even as they reject or redefine it. Participants said that journalists should use objective practices and refrain from revealing their own biases, including advocating for the environment. However, participants have radically redefined the component of objectivity known as “balance.” They now advocate a “weight-of-evidence” approach, where stories reflect scientific consensus.