Science Journalism Series
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Mainstream science journalism, with notable exceptions, still fails to communicate what’s at stake and who is most vulnerable.
We commissioned three stories concentrating on the shortcomings of journalism as an institution — and how journalists can do better.
Climate change will disproportionately affect those who need effective climate coverage most. In every city in America, neighborhoods that are predominately Black will face health risks that come along with the urban heat island effect, exacerbated by redlining. Rural Americans in “flyover country” are watching droughts become longer and floods become more common, as a warming globe means the very science behind the weather patterns changes. And according to the fourth National Climate Assessment, rural communities are some of the most at-risk for climate change effects.
While science might evolve over time, and has its own issues with “objectivity,” we wanted to publish stories that concentrated on the shortcomings of journalism as an institution — and how journalists can do better. With 29 pitches submitted, we ultimately selected three stories with this in mind: Does this story affect underreported communities? Does this story offer a path forward? Does this story connect science with people’s everyday lives? In the end, we were able to select three and commission Stephanie Zeller, a science-focused illustrator.
Nina Dewi Toft Djanegara, a writer and PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University, wrote about women of color being made shadows in stories about ideas and technology they developed. “This story was inspired by personal experiences and conversations with graduate students about the relationship between journalism and academia,” she said.
“Just because these patterns in science journalism have been happening doesn’t mean they need to continue. We hope these stories are a jumping-off point for conversation and action about how all journalists — not just those doing science reporting — can cover nuanced issues more thoughtfully and accurately.”
Lily Lou, a developer who occasionally writes about tech and culture, wrote about tech journalism’s allyship with entrepreneurs and CEOs and how focusing on the wrong workers contributes to the mischaracterization of issues in tech.
“I wanted to write this piece because I sometimes felt frustrated with how much tech reporting focused on buzzword innovations or eccentric startup founders rather than the implications of these technologies on people,” she said. “This intersected with my interests in worker’s movements and labor and led me to eventually pitch this article.”
Finally, Claire Carlson, an environmental journalist based in the Pacific Northwest, covered how mainstream journalism failed communities affected by wildfires during and long after the disasters.“One-sided reporting that serves bigger or wealthier communities fails to highlight the disparities faced by rural and low-income communities so often on the frontlines of natural disasters,” she said. “Meaning that the issues they experience are misunderstood or under-prioritized.”
This series was funded by the National Association of Science Writer’s Peggy Girshman Idea Grant. Stories by Lily Lou, Nina Dewi Toft Djanegara, Claire Carlson. Editing was done by Janelle Salanga, Marlee Baldridge, and Gabe Schneider. Copy editing by Curtis Yee. Illustrations by Stephanie Zeller.