Sunday, October 25, 2009

Naive Profs Offer Hack Writers Science Tutoring

When focused on their core competency of providing background on higher education in Canada, the website "University Affairs" is always a useful read but their recent announcement of the opening of the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC) under the headline "Canada's science media centre opens doors" should hold particular interest to companies and organizations dependent on a highly educated and intelligent workforce.

The article states that the media centre "will help journalists better cover science and researchers better understand reporters' motivations" and this is all well and good.

But I'm just not sure if it's possible to accomplish what Suzanne Corbeil, vice-president, external relations and communications, with the Canada Foundation for Innovation and chair of the SMCC's steering committee seems to have defined as her personal primary goal. “That goal is accurate and rational coverage of science issues in the Canadian mass media” she is quoted in the article as saying.

Now don't  get me  wrong. I like the idea of accurate and rational science coverage. It's the mention of "mass media" that confuses me.

After all, mass media is dying. Those who aren't aware of this haven't noticed the financial troubles at CanWest Global Communications, or researched how little subscriptions to McLeans Magazine cost these days (at least according to this post on the Canadian Magazine Blog), or read the article "2020 Vision: What's next for News," or seen the documentary "Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper in Peril" or even noticed that there are more than three television stations on the air (several of whom seem to be fighting to redistribute advertising and cable fee revenue perhaps in order to postpone further bankruptcies).

It's quite possible that any formal Canadian "mass media" will slide slowly down the slippery slope towards extinction over the next twenty years so the MSCC might want to spend less time focusing on declining areas and more time in areas of the media that are either stable or growing.

There are obvious identifiable areas of media growth where liaisons like SMCC can perform useful services, especially the multiple areas in independent online and new media (where this blog is a useful example) or with specialty magazines which, unlike traditional mass media, are presently undergoing strong and long term growth.

Unfortunately, the listing of MSCC contributors on their website under the our members tab doesn't list any large media partners except for the Toronto Star, a daily newspaper which certainly can't be considered in any way shape or form as anything other than an old style mass media publication. Of course, the Discovery Channel (which is more of a television specialty channel) and O'Brian Publishing (the publisher of Canadian Technology and Business Magazine) are also included in the list and perhaps over time they will bring a measure of realism to the MSCC agenda.

But until then, while some other SMCC goals may indeed be laudable (such as suggestions of "mostly virtual and completely bilingual centre(s) that will help reporters find experts and get briefings on topical concerns") they may already be happening and SMCC seems to be coming quite late to the party.

Here's an example from a recent panel discussion on new media at the American Association Advancement of Science Science Policy Forum.

Here's the second portion of the presentation:

I'd suggest that the MSCC needs more (and more knowledgable) media partners before it can begin to perform a useful role. I wish the organization luck, (I'll even link to it) but I think it's got a long way to go before it even understands the media landscape, much less is able to influence it.

Technology and space focused businesses make the same same mistakes and we'll get to that in a future post.

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