In this commentary I explain why research institutions are neither doing science communication nor developing ‘public’ relations in the proper sense. Their activities are rather a mix of different things, serving various purposes and targets. However, dealing with PCST, their main responsibilities [should] include: promoting genuine communication and dialogue, being open and accessible to the public, providing high quality scientific information, ensuring good internal communication and educating their scientific staff.
Scientific institutions have for a long time known the importance of framing and owning stories about science. They also know the effective way of communicating science in a press release. This is part of the institution’s public relations. Enhanced competition among research institutions has led to a buildup of communicative competences and professionalization of public relations inside the institutions and the press release has become an integrated part of science communication from these institutions. Changing working conditions in the media, where fewer people have to publish more, have made press releases from trustworthy scientific institutions into free and easily copied content for the editors. In this commentary I investigate and discuss the communicative ecosystem of the university press release. I especially take a close look at the role of the critical and independent science journalist in relation to this corporate controlled communication.
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.