History of Science Journalism

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1870-1920

THE PRESS PROMOTES PROGRESS

Newspapers open their pages to advertising...

Having played the role of medium for political opinions, most newspapers now sought to distance themselves from political parties, becoming independent enterprises. With business concerns taking precedence over political allegiance, newspaper owners sought to avoid alienating their readers for ideological reasons. Newspapers focusing on current events became more prominent.

Industry and merchants announced their products through advertising in the press. Advertising revenue became the principal source of income for newspapers.

...and to science

With the economy booming in the late 19th Century, the press became interested in scientific and technological progress. Daily newspapers and periodicals published recent scientific breakthroughs, new knowledge of our world, technological advancement in industry and the resulting improvements on everyday life. There were also summaries of conferences given by members of eminent societies. In short, the press invited readers to embark on the great path to progress.

Interest by the press in science was encouraged by the development of scientific institutions in Canada and by improvements in means of transportation and telecommunications.

Tramway on Rue St-Jacques, Montréal.

During this era, the Star (1869-1979) and La Presse (1884 to date) were among the daily newspapers with the greatest circulation in the country. The Star led campaigns on questions of salubrity and public health. It banked on these 'popular' subjects to reach out to a greater number of readers. In La Presse, Editor-in-chief Clément-Arthur Dansereau explained scientific and technical innovations, developing a position on issues.

Other publications intended for the public at large or specialized clientele promoted scientific and technical information: the Journal d'agriculture (English edition: Journal of Agriculture and Horticulture), Le Moniteur du commerce, La Science populaire illustrée, L'Album industriel. However, several of these publications were short-lived.

Social and Historic Context

Prior to 1867, Canada was a colony of the British Empire. The Confederation united the Province of Canada (territories of the future provinces of Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. These signatories to the British North America Act were joined thereafter by Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871) and Prince Edward Island (1873). Canada acquired internal self-sufficiency but remained dependent on London for its external affairs [...]

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Science during This Era

The end of the 19th Century saw the emergence of an organized scientific community within modern universities. The higher learning model that continues to exist today in Canada was implemented then.

Leaders of this scientific community worked mainly at the University of Toronto, Queen's University in Kingston and McGill University in Montréal (referred to then as McGill College). These establishments offered postgraduate programs in natural science, chemistry, physics, engineering and medicine [...]

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Journalism during This Era

At the dawn of the 20th Century, the industrial and economic boom in Canada led to changes in the newspaper business. Most newspapers distanced themselves from political parties, reporting more on current events. Progressively, the opinion-oriented press yielded to an information press [...]

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Treatment of Science by the Media

The development of newspaper plants and the creation of local, modern science establishments combined with escalating industrialism led to important changes in the mediatisation of science. No longer was scientific information the exclusive realm of scientific societies and cultural magazines intended for a learned public. Science was making its way into daily newspapers and periodicals as well as the business press. In short, the press in general was granting greater prominence to scientific discoveries and their applications [...]

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