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Science Communication

Editorial: Storytelling and science journalism’s future

by Chris Gorski
April 8, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 11


People sit in chairs in front of a fire. Above the fire's orange glow is a distant ridge and above that many stars dot the sky.
Credit: Shutterstock

As reports pile in about news outlets laying off their science reporters or shutting down altogether, it’s difficult to predict where science journalism is going. And it’s difficult to consolidate that angst with the idea that there are people who crave updates about what’s happening in their field and the areas that interest them. It’s another challenge to assess how those factors should influence publications such as our own as we stride into the future.

Most recent news about media, and missives from peers and colleagues at career crossroads, are filled with unsettling or upsetting details about the state of the industry, which is why two recently launched media ventures—Sequencer and Proof News—caught my attention.

Both publications present models that are interesting for different reasons. Sequencer is a worker-owned, science-focused publication. The collective approach might free it from the powerful drives for growth and profits that motivates outlets that are publicly owned or funded by venture capital. Proof News is reexamining storytelling in journalism and aspires to develop hypotheses, collect data to test them, and use statistics to analyze the results (sounds familiar, I expect). In a twist inspired by the scientific method, the site plans to explain its reporting process and analysis alongside the stories it publishes, and even seek a form of peer review before publication.

Our team at C&EN can look to these outfits for inspiration and guidance and to help us define what we can do to better serve our audience. As we look to those big questions related to planning our strategy for the coming years, we’ve also been chatting about topics worthy of splashing on our editorial page as a team of writers and editors, rather than assigning that role primarily to the editor in chief. Some of these editorials will be written by individuals, but they will often be written and reviewed collaboratively.

I’m no expert on the future of science journalism. But I’m pretty certain that people will continue to be drawn to information that is arranged and presented in a way that pleases the mind and, hopefully, the soul. In other words, people like stories. That’s been true for about as long as there have been campfires. Just as ancient storytellers captivated their friends and family, a well-crafted tale describing what happened and why will continue to engage people—even if the fire’s warm glow is replaced by blue-tinged digital light.

I entered college intending to major in physics and ended up in geology. Despite the many English classes I also fit in, the best writing came from encountering John McPhee’s exquisite magazine articles and books in a geology class. I didn’t realize that cultivating a love for learning new subjects across many fields of science, in combination with an interest in reading, would lead me, one step after another, to a career in journalism, but it did. Each hop across the stream was a jump to the next rock to keep my shoes dry.

Just as we don’t know how successful Sequencer or Proof News will be, there’s no certainty about what shape our strategy at C&EN will take. We’ll definitely continue to present to our audience the most important news about chemistry and related industries. As a team of writers and editors, web designers, artists, web and print production staff, and our colleagues in advertising, we will be reviewing and interrogating our processes and goals.

Whatever the future of science journalism holds, we’ll be exploring the paths we could take, trying to generate a shared vision for where we’re going and to identify the vehicles we’re going to use for the trip. We’re looking forward to sharing these ideas and our stories, in formats new and familiar, for you to enjoy at a comfortable distance from the campfire or device of your choice.

Views expressed on this page are not necessarily those of ACS.


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