The future of science journalism

Stand-alone newspaper science sections rose to prominence in the late 1980s as a popular venue for in-depth science coverage, reaching a peak of 95 sections in 1989. Since then, they have been dropping in number and size, particularly among smaller papers. Those that remain have shifted dramatically toward softer consumer-oriented, "news you can use" medicine and personal health coverage and away from science topics like physics, astronomy, and earth sciences.

The weekly Health & Science section of the venerable Baltimore Sun was a relative newcomer to the world of weekly science sections. Started only two-and-a-half years ago, it was touted by the paper's new editor, Timothy Franklin, as a way to take advantage of Baltimore's status as a beacon of scientific and medical research. In an interview last August with The New York Observer, Franklin said boldly that "the Baltimore Sun should be one of the best, if not the best, medical and science newspapers in the country."

But less than a year later, the Tribune-owned paper pulled the plug on the section. In a memo to his staff, Franklin announced that beginning June 7, 2007 the section would be combined with the paper's Today feature section on Thursdays in order to cut down newsprint costs.

"Our readers have consistently told us how much they value stories about medicine and personal health," said Franklin, adding that the change would preserve "a significant chunk of the health content." The announcement was noticeably silent, however, on the fate of weekly science stories: The orphaned non-medical science content would have to fend for itself for space.

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