Getting to grips with challenges facing niche reporters

Emerging technologies, trust in the industry and bad actors spreading both mis and disinformation are challenges that all journalists will face in 2019.

Niche reporters, particularly those in the fields of science, health and consumer affairs have to contend with the broad issues facing all of their peers, but also very specific off-shoots that impact directly on their ability to work to the highest of standards.

They face an overwhelming volume of scientific data and papers but also unsubstantiated opinion and an ever-growing battalion of “influencers”.

In facing the same challenges as their peers, niche reporters have a lot that can be learned from both colleagues and the wider journalism community. These might be new storytelling techniques, new ways to visualise data or publishing methods that stop misinformation campaigns in their tracks. Journalists are used to developing sources, but niche reporters in the field of science and areas such as consumer affairs must develop trusting relationships with entire institutions or scientific communities – all within a sector that has a need to publicise its work but little knowledge of the process that must be carried out to do so.

WAN-IFRA will be focusing on some of these challenges through a Science in the News project in 2019. Vincent Peyregne, CEO of WAN-IFRA explains why: "The scale and depth of disinformation circulating in our societies is a deep concern, not just for the news industry, but for all those who believe that to function effectively, people need accurate, verified information. Being able to trust news is critical."

"Our response to the information disorder is to strengthen professional journalism. The focus of this project extends beyond political disinformation to that which informs how we choose to live our lives, specifically what is reported around science, health and consumer affairs," said Peyregne.

As a foundation to this work, I conducted a workshop focused on defining potential training opportunities for science journalists as well as practical tips and tools that can aid non-science journalists in this space or aid niche reporters on relevant projects. 

By bringing journalists together with different experiences and using co-design methodology, we were able to fully map out existing processes in the reporting of science and consumer affairs stories.

This then allowed us to identify both the challenges and opportunities for improvement in these fields. The design process and results are outlined in the Science in the Newsroom 2019 report, which can be downloaded free.

It is our hope that others might benefit from the expert discussions and perhaps build on their own initiatives to make significant developments, improvements and progress in this space.

The workshop – held in association with the UK Science Journalism Conference – was attended by a variety of journalists, including specialist science journalists working in a newsroom environment, science journalists working for specialist publications, journalists covering consumer affairs and general newsroom journalists who take on science/consumer stories.

Fergus Bell, is a journalist, trainer and media consultant. 

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