We Need Specialists to Cover the Economy, but Are Journalism Students Interested?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Given the complexities of pressing science-related issues such as climate change or biomedical research, we need a new breed of specialist journalist who covers the intersections of science and policy. Rick Weiss, recently retired from the Washington Post, or Andrew Revkin at the NY Times, are probably leading prototypes of this desperately needed specialist. There are few other major outlets for this type of journalism, The Economist or Dave Goldston's column at Nature the exceptions.
News organizations and editors, despite budget tightening, have to prioritize the hiring and cultivation of specialists across beats. And it's not just at the science and policy intersection, but as the past two weeks' events underscore, it also matters for sectors such as the economy or foreign policy.
Yet are students interested in specializing? There's a troubling anecdote from one of our elite journalism schools that student motivation is just not there. From a segment at last week's On the Media radio program (transcript, audio above):
BOB GARFIELD: Cheryl Strauss Einhorn is an adjunct professor of financial journalism at Columbia University's Journalism School. She says that even in times like these, when finance is the story, the students of one of the nation's top J-schools just don't seem to care.
CHERYL STRAUSS EINHORN: This year they weren't even able to drum up enough interest to have two different sections of the financial journalism course. As a matter of fact, I think, all told, through the entire graduate journalism program at Columbia, that they may have had as few as four students show an interest in taking business journalism.
I do give them a questionnaire when they come in and ask them why they're taking the class. Many of the people, when they've answered this, have said that a family member has recommended that this would be good for them, or that they're just completely uncomfortable and they don't like the business section of the newspaper so they thought they would take the class and try to get themselves to have more of an open mind.
But there have been very few people who have taken the class because they've come in saying, this is where my interest is.
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