Science in journalism: NPR correspondent discusses efforts to shift dynamic

Joe Palca spoke on April 22 about his career along with the importance of science in the media.

Science correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR)  Joe Palca spoke on Monday at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville about how science news and journalism has been the minority for years and how NPR is changing the dynamic by putting science media in the center of its focus.

“Instead of creating a special island for science news, we said, look, science is part of the mix. We have politics. We have foreign news. We have business news. We have science,” Palca said. “I think it has worked out really well because there’s a tendency for science to be put off in the corner somehow, but NPR has put it right in the middle.”

Palca began explaining his journey in terms of getting to where he is today. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He studied Psychology and worked on human sleep physiology.

“The ironic thing about all of this is that during my college days I had no journalism or science background,” Palca said.

He explained in depth how multiple media outlets are eliminating their science coverages, but also how NPR does the opposite with the help of the company’s commitment. Additionally, he talked about how science is part of so many different components that people do not even realize.

“NPR has had a steadfast and unwavering commitment to science coverage since the beginning. It’s a commitment that the company made … when times were tough we took a hit like everybody else did, but we built back up again,” Palca said. “… Science is an integral part of the news, it’s not a side place where the features go…we’re in the middle and we feel that we’re as crucial as any other desk because there are social issues that have a major science component, there are medical issues that have a major science component and right now it’s true, I don’t think there is another place that has more people working on a science unit than we do at NPR.”

He concluded the lecture by explaining why people use media outlets, mainly because they want to be informed and entertained. He made notice of the fact that science can sometimes have a stigma to be boring at times.

“Listening to this stuff should be fun and entertaining. We’re not trying to beat people on the head and say ‘now you better listen to this because it’s really important!’ We’re trying to tell them, look, this stuff is wild, it’s crazy, there’s stuff that people discover that you just wouldn’t believe, and I want to tell you about them,” Palca said.

UTK sophomore Jace Walter commented on science media:

“I will be completely honest and admit that I have never even thought to read about science media until today. I am definitely intrigued by all of this and will have to start getting into it,” Walter said.

UT junior Jake Glass said, “I try to go to many different events around campus to broaden my knowledge. This event today was definitely one of the more interesting ones I’ve been to.”

More information on science in the media and NPR can be found on its website.

 

Edited by Ciera Noe and Kaitlin Flippo

Featured image by Esrever, courtesy of Creative Commons