One concern that was raised repeatedly by commentators on science journalism including academics and even one journal editor was the domination of the news agenda by stories from the weekly science and medical journals. Curt Supplee45, a former science reporter in the US claims that 60-70% of the weekly quota of science stories comes straight from the pages of four or five big journals including Science,
Nature, the BMJ and the Lancet which he described as ‘a pretty dumb way to cover science from the public’s perspective’. Another commentator said that we need to ‘challenge the stranglehold of medical journals which are essentially setting the agenda of science with very little challenge’. Some linked this trend to the absence of any tradition of investigative journalism within science writing and others argued that science journalists tend to ‘go native’ and refrain from asking scientists the really tough questions.
"In the States it’s all philanthropy and Pro Publica their model is brilliant – they take money from philanthropists but they also work jointly with papers on investigations [who pay them]."
The problem with this, as Fiona admitted to me, is that we haven't the same history with philanthropists digging into their pockets for journalism in this country. She is seeking to reverse this by lobbying science minister Lord Drayson to divert some science prize funds towards science journalism.
Two other solutions she's in favour of are gaining institution funding:
"I think as long as there are really strong protective walls between the funding and the journalism why not in The States the National Science Foundation funds all kinds of journalistic ventures but it doesn’t have editorial control".
And also research council funding:
"It’s not automatically corrupt. The BBC is funded by the government but I see no evidence that the government interfers in the day to day business of the BBC – why can’t we look at some of these models?"Andrew Jack of the Financial Times said he was for encouraging investigative journalism within media organisations, but also for more "external stimuli", such as awards for science reporting. He also sees a future for: "institutions, whether academic or non-profitboth be funding directly in some form, either through their own resources or funding scholarships."
"If you could only get a handful a week of new and novel and original stories, funded by a different source, you can immediately diversify what’s being published."