The Important Role of Science Journalism in Sustainability Work

September 29, 2022 3 minute read

Woman Science Journalist with Camera

Science Journalism continues play an important role in bringing science to a wider audience in a way that may be more accessible and understandable. In this highly skilled work, science journalists also ensure that critical and complex scientific challenges, pressing problems, and important conversations are entered into the public record when oft competing political and decision-making agendas may otherwise work to deprioritize them (or keep them at bay).

Science Journalism is also influential in our own global development and sustainable impact work at Resonance, and by virtue of our partnerships, valuable to other companies, organizations, agencies, and stakeholders even if we don’t recognize it overtly.

The 5 Contributions Of Science Journalists To Sustainability Work

Although there are numerous ways science journalism offers significant contributions for global development and sustainability work, we identify 5 through our own experience.

1. STEM-Based 

Science Journalists are constantly scanning the multi-faceted science or STEM-based landscape and through their curiosity, research, and networks have a pulse on what is important and what is emergent regarding sustainability, climate change, and other pressing science-based challenges.

2. Storytelling Mindsets

Most science journalists espouse a storytelling mindset – they by nature and through observation connect dots we may not see in our own development and sustainability work. They unearth and delineate the linkages of science and its production and dissemination with place-based context, further shaped by broader and specific environmental, socio-economic, and geo-political factors and forces.

3. Data

Science Journalists also contribute through their work critical data to support their reporting, ensuring validity and accuracy, and a commitment to adhere to professional standards aligned with verifying sources.

In some instances, science journalism can contribute data that sits behind academic paywalls, is challenging for the public to obtain, or has not yet been identified. In global development and sustainability work, the goal of more inclusive data – data that represents the oft underrepresented or marginalized people for whom a science-based challenge or solution is most likely to impact -- may be realized through science journalism, among other channels.

4. Dialogue

Good science Journalism often spurs robust, intellectual dialogue that can further advance science and scientific understanding, and even contribute to much needed paradigm shifts.

The work of science journalists can lead to debate, the introduction of alternative claims, and even challenge accepted scientific truths as well a methodology, evidence, analysis, and findings. It can also when aligned with issues that are of critical societal importance and/or immediacy in the global development and sustainability space, spur additional research, discovery, and experimentation critical to our work.

5. Shape Scientific Concepts & Issues

Finally, as communicators, science journalists shape scientific concepts, issues, and problems for not only public understanding, but in ways that may motivate people to care. Although science journalism isn’t primarily a form of advocacy, often broad coalescence around challenges would not be possible without dedicated reporting.

Often rhetoric (language) we use to describe important science-based ideas, theories and phenomena is generated through science journalism. Metaphors in particular, are important in environmental communication and education; many have often been introduced or advanced by science journalists to explain complex concepts. And journalistic best practice often includes stories to help explain and communicate science-based stories, or what author and researcher Brene Brown described in her lauded recorded lecture as “data with a soul.”

Science Journalism as a Profession

Science Journalists, sometimes referred to as science writers, are often employed directly by news media and publications or contracted as part of a growing cadre of science journalism freelancers. Some have launched their own outlets to distribute science-based reporting, whether it be digital print or multimedia such as podcasts and vlogs. 

Most don't realize, but many companies and organizations engaged in sustainable development, sustainability, ESG, UNSDGs, and other commitments and initiatives, are also employing science journalists on staff to communicate with stakeholders across channels and forms regarding work that is becoming more and more complex and thus more challenging to convey.

Although many science journalists and writers have degrees in journalism, many have backgrounds in science and simply developed journalism skills to accompany their interests. With advanced technology, many science journalists also capture images and video footage of interviews and on location. 

Last year, a global report was published that suggested work has become ‘more intense’ for the world’s science journalists. This headline was from a published study conducted by ScieDev.Net, a leading source of reliable and authoritative news, views, and analysis about science and technology for global development.

An estimated 634 science journalists and writers participated, responding to an array of questions, offering an insightful snapshot of the current values, aspirations, and working conditions of some of the world’s leading science journalists.

Some of the most interesting findings were that despite seeing an increased scope of work (number of projects they work on in one week has grown in the past five years, with women seeing more growth per week than men), most were still satisfied with their profession.

In characterizing the report, Tim Lougheed, Executive Director of the World Federation of Science Journalists, noted, “Science writing, science communication, and science journalism appear to have a genuinely global character.”

Resonance To Feature Monthly - "A Science Journalist You Should Follow" 

This broad network of committed science journalists across the globe plays an important role to our work in global development and sustainability.

We look forward to introducing each month as part of Resonance Insights "A Science Journalist You Should Follow." Check below to subscribe to be sure you don't miss it. 

Additional Resources

The Open Notebook is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides tools and resources to help science, environmental, and health journalists at all experience levels sharpen their skills.

Don’t Miss out

Subscribe to our latest insights

Join the discussion

If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.