Problems and perspectives of journalistic coverage about risks are often seen as a mere prolongation of the debate on the public understanding of science. As their colleagues from the science section journalists that portray environmental and social risks get often evaluated according to normative quality criteria such as objectivity, fairness, balance and science-orientation.

The paper wants to unfold a perspective from which most of these quality criteria have to be seen aswishful thinking. At its best they may lead to an idealized, consensus-orientated mainstream journalism, that inevitably ignores the – so-called lay-rational – interests of its (potential) readers. At its worst the same criteria seduce media scientists to ignore the function, eigenvalues and constraints of modern journalism. They fail to describe journalistic coverage about risks as something different from an annex of the science system, primarily responsible for the propagation of scientific expertise.

By taking into account new developments in risk theory and the theory of journalism the paper outlines an integrative theoretical framework that describes science journalism in transition to risk journalism, seen as an autonomous self-organized system of social meaning production. Therefore journalistic risk constructions are relevant for society, just because they do not mirror scientific risk perspectives but contradict and conflict with them.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

From science journalism to risk journalism

Alexander Goerke   Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena

Problems and perspectives of journalistic coverage about risks are often seen as a mere prolongation of the debate on the public understanding of science. As their colleagues from the science section journalists that portray environmental and social risks get often evaluated according to normative quality criteria such as objectivity, fairness, balance and science-orientation.

The paper wants to unfold a perspective from which most of these quality criteria have to be seen aswishful thinking. At its best they may lead to an idealized, consensus-orientated mainstream journalism, that inevitably ignores the – so-called lay-rational – interests of its (potential) readers. At its worst the same criteria seduce media scientists to ignore the function, eigenvalues and constraints of modern journalism. They fail to describe journalistic coverage about risks as something different from an annex of the science system, primarily responsible for the propagation of scientific expertise.

By taking into account new developments in risk theory and the theory of journalism the paper outlines an integrative theoretical framework that describes science journalism in transition to risk journalism, seen as an autonomous self-organized system of social meaning production. Therefore journalistic risk constructions are relevant for society, just because they do not mirror scientific risk perspectives but contradict and conflict with them.

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

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