State of the craft

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Paul Raeburn writes about the unsung heroes in recent reports of sexual harassment in academia — reporters, like Buzzfeed's Azeen Ghorayshi, who ferreted out the evidence and brought it to public attention: "Were it not for a new and brash generation of young science journalists, for whom persistent pockets of old-boy sexism within the academy are as absurdly anachronistic as an episode of 'Mad Men,' we might not know that such pockets still exist. They very much do."

There's an unexpected downside to falling oil prices, Joseph Lichterman writes — they mean wealthy donors have less cash to give: "In states such as Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, where the economy is closely tied to the energy industry, news organizations — especially smaller and nonprofit outlets — have created contingency plans and taken steps to deal with potential revenue losses and funding cuts as oil prices have dropped drastically in recent years."

The founder of InsideClimate News, David Sassoon, discusses how non-profit journalism outlets like his are different from — and in some ways better than — legacy news media: "Nobody is in it for the money. There are no shareholders to satisfy. No media mogul can find a way to milk it dry. If a non-profit generates income, it gets plowed back into more journalism. Serving the public interest is its sole function, the practice of journalism in its noblest expression."

The continuing decline of Barnes & Noble prompts Alex Shephard to discuss what's at risk if the big chain shrinks further or closes and publishers lose one of their biggest revenue streams: "The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts."

Andrew Seifter reviews a Shawn Otto book, The War on Science, quoting Otto on how journalism distorts governance: "'Journalists look for conflict to find an angle,' he writes, 'so there are always two sides to every story.' A scientist, by contrast, would say that 'one of these claims can be shown to be objectively false and it’s poor reporting to paint this as a controversy.' As a result, the journalistic approach 'tends to skew public policy in counterfactual directions.'"

Columbia Journalism Review editors report on their review of a century of Pulitzer Prize winners and conclude that the honorees always have been — and still are — mostly white: "Progress has been so slow that the percentage of non-white winners over the last decade is essentially identical to the percentage over the last 100 years." Also, Howard W. French on how the history of black people in journalism mirrors the history of race in America.

Economist Julia Cagé proposes a solution to the news media's financial crisis — a new form of organization modeled after major universities that combine commercial and nonprofit activities: "The question is not whether the media should be subsidized. It is rather whether they should be granted a favorable legal and tax status in recognition of their contribution to democracy — a status comparable to that long enjoyed by many other participants in the knowledge economy."

Sabrina Talukdar writes about a debate in front of British doctoral students that began with a majority supporting the proposition that journalists covering science should have a background in science. By the end, that sentiment had shifted strongly in the opposite direction: "The final result saw a swing to 73% voting against the motion and only 27% remaining in support." Also, Paul Raeburn on what every journalist should know about science.

Sarah O'Connor tested her writing skill against a machine named Emma to see who could do a better job on a business story. The answer? It's not clear: "In truth, most people who work on artificial intelligence admit it is not going to make humans obsolete any time soon. It is simply not intelligent enough yet. What is beginning to happen, though, is more subtle but no less important. The lines are beginning to blur between work done by humans and that done by machines."

Jon Brooks talks to one of the consultants on that John Oliver segment on science reporting, Health News Review publisher Gary Schwitzer, and asks about the journalism that gave rise to the jokes: "We treat anything published in a journal as if it’s from Moses coming down the mountaintop with a set of stone tablets. Journals were never meant to be sources for the 24-hour news cycle — they are meant to be a forum for discussion among scientists."