Story by Becky Hoag
Have you heard about the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s new Media Center for Science and Technology? In my opinion, it’s overdue.
The current U.S. administration has been bashing science, and the country is lagging in science literacy. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that 40 percent of high school seniors are “below basic” science knowledge in 2015. This is very concerning to me, as a science and journalism double-major.
This state of affairs, in part, is related to our country’s questionable financial priorities. Education should be treated and funded as a crucial part of our society — up there with healthcare, law enforcement and defense — but it’s not.
The nation’s lack of science literacy is also related to a dearth of engaging public communication around scientific topics. Just as people learn a foreign language better when they are immersed in it, they will gain a stronger understanding of science if they are exposed to and engaged in it. Who better to do that than the media?
I have found that the SOJC’s curriculum does a fairly good job covering many topics, particularly sports, hard news, and gender and diversity issues. But — with the exception of Science & Memory and Envision Magazine — the school offers no classes or programs for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) journalism, leaving students like me a bit lost.
So when I heard President Schill has earmarked part of the Presidential Fund for Excellence to support a new center in the SOJC focused on science and technology communication, I was extremely excited. I have high hopes for this center, and I have high expectations.
Here are nine things I hope the MCST will bring to the UO:
1. Science and tech communication classes.
I would like to take classes that specifically teach science, environmental and technology journalism. As SOJC Assistant Professor Seth Lewis has said, gone are the days when students take journalism to avoid science and math. These topics should be directly integrated into the learning process to ensure aspiring science and tech journalists have a deep understanding of their beats.
2. Collaboration with other UO departments.
This would be mutually beneficial for the SOJC and other schools across campus. Journalists need to increase their understanding of STEM topics, and STEM professionals need to improve how they communicate with the public. The MCST can train communicators to be a bridge between scientists and the public.
3. Support for related student organizations.
I admit I am biased, as I am editor-in-chief of Envision Magazine, I’m starting an informal Society for Environmental Journalists chapter and I was a writer last summer for Science & Memory. But I think most would agree with me that it is important to encourage students to take part in hands-on learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom.
4. Great guest speakers.
The center started off strong by hosting a talk with the executive producer of “NOVA.” Paula Apsell’s American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Award lecture was inspirational, as she has decades of experience covering STEM in an engaging way. I learned a lot about how to cover difficult topics such as climate change, and what media outlets want in a story pitch. Now I look forward to learning even more from environmental journalists, scientists who know how to communicate with the public, technology experts who want to improve the ways journalists reach the masses, and researchers who are developing and testing best practices for science and tech communication.
5. Hands-on workshops.
I want to learn how to code. And I want my fellow journalists to grasp basic science topics, such as the gas cycles that allow our planet to sustain life and the biological systems that allows us to stay alive. I want to learn how to delicately cover life-threatening ailments and the psychology of why the public doesn’t trust science — or the media, for that matter. I want to comprehend statistical data and how to produce telling graphs and imagery.
6. More STEM beats in UO publications.
Science beats are decreasing around the nation when they should be increasing. If we want the public to become more comfortable with STEM topics, we need to increase our coverage of them. Let’s start with our SOJC student-run publications, such as FLUX Magazine and OR Magazine, and the Daily Emerald, which can partner with the MCST to put its teaching into action.
7. Increased climate change awareness and activism.
Yes, it’s important to draw a line between journalism and activism. Climate change is a fact, however, not a political stance. Yet the U.S. public remains skeptical and hesitant to talk about the topic, much less act to combat climate change as an imminent threat. I’m hoping the MCST will inspire the the SOJC and the UO to not only get out the message about climate change in ways that compel people to action, but actively work toward decreasing their own carbon footprints.
8. Collaboration with the Catalyst Journalism Project.
STEM stories can be depressing because many problems in these fields have yet to be solved. The MCST should collaborate with the Catalyst Journalism Project at the SOJC to examine the use of solutions journalism, which shows promise as a way to engage the public.
9. Internships and jobs.
I hope the MCST will work with external publications and organizations so that interested students can get hands-on experience working in STEM journalism and communication outside the classroom.
I am excited to see where the MCST will go, and I can’t wait to get involved in its events and programs.
Becky Hoag is a junior double-majoring in journalism and environmental life science. This is her second term interning for the SOJC Communications Office. She is the editor-in-chief of UO’s environmental publication, Envision Magazine, and the president of UO’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter. She wants to become a research scientist and freelance environmental and science journalist. You can view her work at beckyhoag.com.