PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Teaching science journalism at the Free University of Berlin
A German approach to PCST

Winfried Göpfert   Institut für Publizistik und Kommunikationspolitik, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Renate Bader   Institut für Publizistik und Kommunikationspolitik, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

For ten years, the Robert Bosch Foundation funded a fellowship program for science journalism in Germany. The idea was to improve science journalism through learning by doing, and by watching old-hand science journalists at work. Young science reporters got internships in science departments of well-known newspapers, radio and tv stations. Then, the Robert Bosch Foundation decided to help start a new approach by institutionalizing science journalism education. So, in April 1990 the Free University of Berlin became the first German university to have a full-time professor for science journalism. Pros and cons of both approaches will be briefly discussed.

Further, we propose to introduce the new program, which - besides educating future science jour­ nalists - will also develop new research projects, and try to improve German science journalism.

So far, the program is part of a larger program in journalism and mass communication, and students can specialize only during the second part of their studies. They can choose among several classes. One class is dealing with the theory of science, science writing, and research about both. Students analyse science reporting, read important research papers in the field, and write research proposals; but they do not actually do any science reporting. Practical classes are tought for all three media: print, radio, and tv. Here students do real reporting, and in one they produce the science journal dimensional. First experiences with this curriculum will be discussed.

We are not doing much research yet. But one thing is certain: we do want to tackle questions working journalists are keen to have answered, and we would like to introduce some project ideas. One is an analysis of agenda building in German science reporting. Preliminary observations suggest that there is an unusually high amount of reporting on research done in the U.S., while studies done in other European countries, or locally tend to be neglected. Another interesting area will be to study media effects: How should science information be presented in order to reach the public? Here our journal can be used for tests. Further, we are interested in the broad field of risk communication and are preparing an international meeting on the issue for spring 1992 in Berlin.

Moreover, we are currently developing a science news archive of all three media. The archive will be constructed as to be useful for scientific and journalistic purposes, e.g. students could use it to research their stories. In the long run it is meant as one instrument to improve German science re­ porting. We hope it will develop into an easily accessible research tool for all journalists, thereby generating more and better science reporting, and, in turn, a public that is much better informed about science and technology than today.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.