Use of sources by science news writers: an exploration of information credibility




Finn, Jeanine Ellen

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This dissertation describes an ethnographic study of how science journalists understand and use credible research information when they select sources to inform their news writing. This research emerges from a socially constructed understanding of credibility that includes social epistemology and community of practice theories, as well as more foundational theories of trust. As economic and technological forces are radically reshaping scientific research and journalism practices, current scholarly discourse suggests that science communication is undergoing a period of significant change. Simultaneously, research data is becoming increasingly important to issues of broad public concern, such as in research related to global climate change. Scholars in many fields are noting that Internet communication can subvert a number of paradigms related to “expert information” and formal structures for knowledge sharing. Science journalism is selected as a particular site for this study, as it resides at a nexus of two communities of practice with distinct epistemological structures: scientific research and journalism. Data was gathered from 18 interviews with established science journalists and an analysis of the participants’ published works to explore patterns of sourcing and the integration of research data into published works. Findings center around the themes of identity and process in a collaborative knowledge-sharing space. Freelance science writers, frequently untethered from formal organizational affiliations, were found to construct their voice as a credible science author over time and through a series of interactions. For example, early-career science writers may be more likely to rely on their formal scientific education to support their writing. Later-stage writers are more confident in their ability to approach and explore new topics, supported by a network of expert sources and colleagues. These findings are organized to inform the development of interdisciplinary collaborative research information spaces and contribute to ongoing conversations related to public understanding of science.



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