NPR science correspondent and award-winning TV journalist, Ira Flatow, visited York College journalism students on March 26 to discuss the importance of science reporting and the future of media reporting on science.
Professor Thomas Moore’s Science Journalism course hosted Flatow, who talked about his interests as a college student and his introduction to radio.
“I was an engineer major at Buffalo State University and there was an ad asking for a radio host as part of the journalism initiative and I went,” said Flatow.
Flatow explained that scientists, notorious for not being able to communicate their findings to the general public in words anyone can understand, needed journalists to relay their work. But this also proves to be problematic for many reporters because research is often filled with jargon that even the most sophisticated journalist has to wade through. As a result, scientists prefer journalists who specialize in science reporting, because there is an expectation that those specialists will be able to understand their language and break concepts down.
“Hard work, research and dedication are what separate a good reporter from a bad one,” said Flatow.
Flatow’s TV credits include six years as a host and writer for the Emmy-award-winning Newton’s Apple on PBS and science reporter for CBS This Morning. He wrote, produced and hosted Transistorized, an hour-long PBS documentary.
His many accomplishments made Flatow an American science radio legend and he currently hosts NPR’s Science Friday, dedicated to covering the most recent findings in science ranging from tech to space.
One of the pressing issues in science journalism is the ongoing debate of fairness in the media regarding balancing social and scientific scales. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, host of the Carl Sagan reboot COSMOS, was recently under fire by religious groups for not giving equal airtime to people who believed in creationism, despite the fact that scientists as a whole agree on the theory of evolution. Tyson went on CNN in mid-March and argued the media was giving too much equal playing field for naysayers.
“The principle was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view. And then you can be viewed as balanced,” said Tyson. “You don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”
Flatow gave credence to Tyson’s view and acknowledged the problem that media is still entertainment, reminded journalists to make sure they not betray the science, but also said to remember that scientists are humans — and often humans have off-color beliefs.
Flatow recalled Jane Goodall, one of the most influential researchers on chimpanzees in the wild and was the first to observe similar traits between them and humans, yet “she believed in the Yeti,” said Flatow.
Flatow is president of Science Friday Inc. and founder and president of Science Friday Initiative, a non-profit company dedicated to creating audio, video and Internet projects that make science a topic of discussion around the dinner table, Twitter or Facebook.