History of Science Journalism

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1945-1970

THE FIRST SCIENCE JOURNALISTS CARVE OUT A NICHE FOR THEMSELVES IN THE PRESS

One mission: to bring science closer to the people

Roland Prévost in front of the Rockefeller Center in New York

Audio excerpt
Science and Adventure (2-minute, 41-second excerpt)

Broadcast: January 22, 1948
Radio station: CKAC in Montréal
Subject: Nuclear Energy
Host: Robert Prévost
Source: Bibliothèques et archives nationale du Québec

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The post-war context was favourable to the expansion of the written press. In daily newspapers, 'regular' journalists sought to devote themselves to scientific issues. Some even made science their specialty. These first journalists felt that they had a role to play in informing the public of the state and advancement of science in Canada because science was an important vehicle for the modernization of society.

Indeed, scientific activities were increasingly specialized and costly. Research was multiplying and diversifying rapidly. Laboratories were better equipped.

Reflecting the dynamic nature of research, the range of science subjects covered by the media expanded, yet health issues continued to dominate. However, space exploration in the 1950s and 1960s generated widespread enthusiasm, contributing greatly to the popularity of science among the public and the media. News, feature stories and television shows on astronomy and aeronautics abounded. Coverage of aerospace became an important power base for the first generation of science journalists. With the cold war as a backdrop, the race between the United States and the USSR to conquer space became a political issue.

Proof that science was increasingly present in society was evident in radio broadcasting where news bulletins and public affairs shows addressed scientific issues.

Journalists and scientists: relations change

Increasing numbers of journalists were calling upon the expertise of scientists. This new context resulted in several factors becoming sources of friction between the two groups.

The production of media content is governed by constraints that sometimes alter the way in which scientific information is communicated. Journalists can make errors in the interpretation of information provided by scientists. Likewise, scientists are sometimes unskilled at explaining their work in non-technical language, making the journalist's job even harder. Additionally, the growing specialization of research was leading to increasingly complex information, and scientists had less time to devote to the media. In short, by the end of the 1960s, the two professional groups had to adapt their methods in order better to communicate.

A new medium enters homes: television

In 1952, Société Radio-Canada and the CBC inaugurated the first television stations in Canada. In Quebec, the number of televisions in homes increased rapidly: in 1952 alone, numbers rose from 6,600 in July to 34,000 in December.

Science carved out a place for itself on the small screen during the early years of television. The first scientific programs were generally educational and geared to a younger audience.

Fernand Séguin and Marc Favreau

Video excerpt
Science in Slippers (2-minute, 35-second excerpt)

Broadcast: October 22, 1954
Subject: Atoms
Hosts: Fernand Séguin and Marc Favreau
Source: Société Radio-Canada

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Social and Historic Context

In the wake of the Second World War, the reconstruction of Europe and strong demand for American goods stimulated industrial development in Canada. The natural resources sector was booming, in particular pulp and paper, mining and hydroelectricity. The federal government implemented measures to stimulate full employment. However, strikes and labour conflicts abounded. The middle class was growing stronger and purchasing power among families was on the rise [...]

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Science during This Era

After the Second World War, two factors led to a marked increase in university enrolment: the return of soldiers, many of whom were of university age, and the need for qualified workers [...]

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Journalism during This Era

Post-war economic prosperity favoured the newspaper industry. Advertising revenue rose and newspapers grew in size. Likewise, newsrooms expanded. The tabloid press gained in popularity and the Journal de Montréal (1964 to date) was launched; circulation of Montréal-Matin increased. However, La Presse and the Star remained very influential daily newspapers in Canada [...]

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Treatment of Science by the Media

Up until then in the press, scientists had been responsible for, or had encouraged, the presentation of science in non-technical language. Now 'regular' journalists were covering science [...]

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