2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 295-4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


RANDALL, Ian1, ABEL, Sue M.1 and CAMPBELL, Kathleen A.2, (1)School of Social Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand, (2)School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand, iran920@aucklanduni.ac.nz

News media play a significant role in providing information on, and framing public discourse around, contemporary scientific research. While academic interest in science journalism has been growing steadily since the late fifties, its focus remains somewhat constrained. Most studies offer either a generalist treatment of science reportage, or are only concerned with the coverage of limited scientific topics – typically medicine, human biology and climate science.

Using palaeontological reportage as a lens, our research aims to highlight the importance of not overlooking idiosyncrasies in the underexplored media/science relationships of other disciplines – which also produce research of global significance and newsworthiness. Existing literature, while limited and anecdotal, has suggested that the media/science relationship in palaeontology may face not only the recurring themes of Science Journalism Studies in general (e.g. mismatched expectations between media and scientific professionals; concern over the public understanding of science; and issues over accessibility, accuracy and sensationalism within the news) but also its own unique tribulations – most notably the media’s arguably problematic attachment to ‘dinomania’.

This presentation reports early results from a content analysis of The New York Times’ coverage of palaeontological research from 1980-2013, which we compare to a cross-section of palaeontological news taken from 60 major, international, English-language publications during 2013. We propose that the palaeontological news selected by journalists suggests that an atypical set of news values is in play – one which, for example, rates novelty, superlativeness and references to ‘elite fossils’ over conventional news values like a story’s cultural proximity or threshold. The preponderance of the superficial and uncritical “Gee Whiz!” frame among the publications from 2013, along with broad trends towards less complex and more accessible stories in The New York Times both resonate with broader theories on the popularization of news, and invite questions as to the extent to which science journalism has supposedly matured from a ‘cheerleading’ to a more critical and engaged ‘watchdog’ stance.

  • Randall et al. - All the Palaeontology That's Fit to Print.pdf (448.1 kB)
  • Randall et al. - Reference List.pdf (30.1 kB)