Sunday, January 2, 2011

CNN, Science News, and Belief Blogging

At the end of 2008, the cable news network CNN announced that it would cut its entire science department. The plan was to roll their coverage of science related news items into other news departments if the story was relevant to that department's content. But since there would no longer be a group of science experts on staff, any coverage of scientific topics on the network would not be produced by reporters who specialized in science reporting. 

CNN has experts in finance on staff to report on economic news, sports experts to report on sports, specialists on politics to report on political news, etc. Networks and newspapers have specialist reporters because having a nuanced understanding of a complex topic can be vital to producing good content on that subject.  Science is a large and complex topic. I don't think it would be overstating things to assert that science is the largest and most complex of subjects. 

What sorts of expert reporters and how many of them a department has can be a good indication of a news organization's priorities.  CNN has chosen to eliminate a department dedicated to understanding and explaining science news.  However they do have a small department and staff of experts in religion to handle the Belief blog on CNN's website. 

The Belief blog is tasked with covering a faith perspective on the day's news, including science news. This is an editorial blog of the opinion section on CNN's website and I'm not suggesting it is a major news department at the network.  I don't even mind that the Belief blog exists. If they think there is a market for that kind of thing, then fine.
What bothers me about this is that there is a full time staff of two editors and a part time author for the Belief blog, but no dedicated science department and no expert science staff at the network -- which strikes me a serious misapplication of resources and priorities at CNN. 

Too many large networks and newspapers have cut back or eliminated their science reporters and science reporting. Oddly this is happening at a time when scientific topics are growing in relevance to our everyday lives. Yes, there are many great science journalists and publications out there, but major news outlets have far more public reach. We as a society rely on the news to keep us informed and encourage a scientifically literate population.

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