Recent survey results by SciDev.Net/CABI reveal that the majority of science journalists (633 respondents from 77 countries) believe that the field is not consolidating the way some other mainstream/legacy journalism specialties are.

Only 27 percent believe that ‘science journalism is a dying profession’ though 67 percent believe that ‘science journalism is in crisis.' Crisis is not defined (1) but it can't be too much of a crisis because 81 percent believe that they will ‘certainly or probably’ still be working in the field in the next five years while 46 percent say they are happy with their jobs. If you do something you enjoy it doesn't always feel like work so I am surprised only half are happy. I wrote for 25 years before I ever wrote as a career and I still enjoy it. I would do it for free. I just would not do it if no one read me. It may be that science journalism is like other areas and few people are really happy with their jobs, most only do them because they get paid.(2) 

Americans will be intrigued that most science journalists in the survey say they work on one story for a two-week period. It is difficult to imagine that rank-and-file science journalists overall are working on one article for two weeks. In organizations I have run people write an article each day. If there is a staggered approach it's perhaps because scientists don't respond to emails.

The COVID-19 pandemic improved that a little. In the recent survey, 48 percent said scientists were more responsive than in previous years. I can't even guess anecdotally how many scientists respond to me in a timely fashion (3) so better than in previous years may be from poorly to less poorly.

Lack of response by a scientist and complexity are not barriers that create two weeks to write the story, so it may be that 'science journalist' is used the way 'musician' and 'artist' are - by people who dabble. Even if it is not your occupation you can say you do it. I have had people ask me if I am a science journalist and to keep answers simple I may say yes, but while I have written for Wired and Wall Street Journal and USA Today and too many places to count, I have never been a journalist and don't identify as one.

What was interesting was that women (54 percent of respondents) say they work on five pieces in that same time, which means that more women are probably working for media corporations rather than dabbling. If you are a newer person at a science media company I would assume you are working on three pieces each day. As your skill increases that will go down and eventually you will get a deep-dive assignment from a place like ProPublica or a book for a program here at Science 2.0. But that takes time and practice and some innate ability. Perhaps more women are just better at it and therefore get hired full-time and work on more things. 

Here is a reason specialization or deep-dives are probably not the reasons people write an article every two weeks:

Environmental issues were listed as areas they address by 89%
Technology is also covered by 89% 
Health and medicine are covered by 88%
Climate change was covered by 87%

Nearly everyone does all of them and they have little in common. So science journalists in this survey are not doing deep dives as much as covering new studies they see in press releases. Like I did with this one!


(1) If by crisis they mean they deserve to be paid more or they will leave the field, that is not a crisis so much as unrealistic expectations. Like any field, there are going to be 1% who make a great deal of money and then a lot who feel like they deserve it also. In the past 20 years, science journalists became overtly political and that continues to this day. When you stop writing for 4 people and instead advocate for the 2 who vote the way you do, you're no longer a trusted guide for the public.

(2) I had a PhD tell me on Twitter last week I was wrong when writing about a study (I was not) so I offered to let him write up his take on the results in the paper. He said he would only do it if he gets paid. That is all fine, but we have had 300,000,000 readers and I had never heard of him. If I tell Keith Richards he is not a great guitarist and he tells me to get on stage and show I am better, it would be silly to demand he pay me.

(3) I can speak broadly using my own experience and state (counter-intuitively) that younger scientists are a lot less likely to respond at all. If I don't get a response from the corresponding or lead author I write the PI. As the person having to get the grant, they may understand the value of media in a way younger, more idealistic scientists do not. Maybe journalists at the BBC get a different reaction because everyone will have heard of them.

Yet when the BBC wanted to create a user-generated content site who did they write for help? Me. So media corporations understand how things work in actual science journalism better than scientists or journalists may.