Improving the quality of science reporting: a case study of Metcalf's Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists

Cara Murray, University of Rhode Island


Environmental journalists and science writers express a strong desire for professional development opportunities. These groups often identify inadequate training in science and science writing as their biggest obstacles to accurate reporting. To fill these training gaps, science immersion workshops for journalists, focused on a particular specialization such as marine reporting, offer both practical and pedagogical advantages. However, few efforts have been made to evaluate the efficacy of these workshops in a quantitative way. This case study of the Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists, offered by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, aimed to determine whether journalists’ reporting is more accurate as a result of program participation. Survey data, collected from 11 years of workshop alumni, indicate neutral to positive responses on all measures of change. Using an exploratory approach, this study analyzed survey results by five categories—year of attendance, education level and type, media format, and years of journalism experience—to investigate the role of demographic variables in participants’ learning experience. Some results of these comparative analyses correlate with programmatic changes made during the 11 years surveyed. The presence or absence of specific workshop activities coincides with higher and lower levels of reported change for specific learning objectives targeted by those activities. Other results have possible implications for program design or participant eligibility to maximize program impact. Journalists with more formal education report more change on multiple learning objectives, such as data use, understanding of scientific uncertainty, desire to report on environmental topics, and communication with scientists. At the same time, journalists with less formal education and less professional experience are more likely to have recommended the program to others. Some confounding results suggest a need for different group divisions based on media format in future analysis. The data analysis of survey participants disaggregated by media type generated few statistically significant differences of note. This case study relates to larger trends, questions and changes in today’s media landscape. Because information flows from the media to the public and into policy, the quality and quantity of marine reporting impacts the quality and quantity of marine policy. In a media environment that has become increasingly interactive, where information flow is less hierarchical, now more than ever environmental journalists must be equipped to filter, interpret and evaluate information in order to communicate effectively.

Subject Area

Journalism|Environmental education|Public policy|Science education

Recommended Citation

Cara Murray, "Improving the quality of science reporting: a case study of Metcalf's Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1489738.