Science journalism sheds light on how science and technology (S&T) changes everyone’s lives for better, or for worse,” said Yang, one of the awardees of the Chit Estella Journalism Student Awards for her paper on science journalism during the third Asian Journalism Research Conference (AJRC) held at UP Diliman.
Yang quotes US-based science journalist Martin Angler’s book, A Guide to Science Journalism, that describes science journalism as “a journalistic genre that primarily deals with scientific achievements and the scientific process itself, scientists’ quests, and difficulties in solving problems. It aims to question the methods scientists employ as well as their results and how the media and the public interpret them. It also investigates and unfolds possible conflicts of interest researchers may have.”
“I believe there is a need to publish more probing and analytical stories that come from local science journalists in order for journalists to safeguard the truth and serve the public,” said Yang, who attended grade and high school at the Immaculate Conception Academy Greenhills. During her high school graduation, she won her school’s “Excellence in Writing” award.
Explaining the possible reasons that impede the promotion of science journalism in the country, Yang said, “many media outlets do not always see the intrinsic value of scientific findings, unless the findings are ‘ground breaking’ and ‘jaw-dropping.’”
According to her, “Many editors and journalists see science journalism in a ‘gee-whiz science’ manner. It is good to see some people in newsrooms who are fascinated with science, but we always have to remember to report on all sides of the story – the truth – even if the story would hurt science.”
Yang comes from a family who believes that the arts and sciences can never be divorced from each other. Her father is a doctor specializing in dermatology and sexually-transmitted infections and her mother is a broadcast business journalist for ANC. Her sister is a high school student who is interested in theatre arts and biochemistry.
Yang comes from a science background. Her previous course was BSE Biology (Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in Biology, Minor in Chemistry) at UP Diliman.
“As a science and education major, I spent long hours inside laboratories studying scientific theories and concepts, and occasionally getting frustrated when an experiment would fail. I chose this field because I wanted to become a doctor, just like my dad,” she added.
Things were going well, until she started having a difficult time in biology subjects. Her grades were not high enough to pass the Biology 12 course, a prerequisite to higher Biology subjects. During that semester, she failed the subject.
“I walked away from that future M.D. degree because I did not think I had what it took to become a doctor. I knew that I still loved science, and that I wanted to communicate it to a lot of people – but I needed experience,” said Yang.
In the succeeding months, she did a lot of soul-searching. Yang interned as an apprentice science communicator at The Mind Museum. She also met the GMA News Online SciTech news editor Dimacali who introduced her to the world of science journalism.
Dimacali taught her the ropes of how to write a science news and features story. “He taught me the intricacies and nuances of communicating scientific discoveries in manageable chunks of information. His guidance and belief in me fuelled my desire to pursue a career in science journalism. It was because of him that I became a freelance contributor to the GMA News Online SciTech section, and other media outlets like Rappler and FlipScience. He gave me hope that I still had a future ahead of me. For that, I will always be grateful to him,” she remembered.
“I think the best way to promote science journalism is to publish quality science stories. A discovery story is an infotainment story. But it should be, first and foremost, accurate and complete. It should detail the potentially negative effects (if any), and what critics or independent scientists have to say about it,” Yang said.
After she met Dimacali, it became clear to her that she was interested in science journalism. She did have some background in science, but she did not really know much about the ins and outs of the journalism industry. “It also helped that the UP College of Mass Communication was offering a new course, J 195 (Science Journalism). Those were the two signs that led me to shift to BA Journalism. I have not looked back ever since,” Yang said.
It was during her thesis proposal class that she was able to brainstorm on the topic with her professor Maria Diosa Labiste of the Journalism Department. “My initial pitch to her was a collection of experiences from science journalists and science editors in the Philippines,” she said. Labiste accepted the pitch. The title of her study was “Assessing the Quality of Science Journalism in the Philippines: Infotainment vs Critical Science.”
“Actually, the study I presented during the conference is part of a bigger study – my thesis. In the conference, I shared the content analysis of 3,250 science news and features stories from five mainstream media outlets with online science sections. In my thesis, I will be including interviews with former and current science editors, based on the findings of my content analysis,” Yang said.
She thought she would only be analyzing the content of a thousand stories at most, but the number crept up to three thousand as she was collecting stories from online archives. It seemed impossible and she complained a bit. “But my desire to finish my thesis and graduate on time motivated me to keep pushing forward,” she said.
It has been her dream to embark on an academic study about science journalism in the Philippines. It is already a dream come true to be able to present her “baby” in front of veteran journalists and academics, she said.
Upon graduation, given the choice and opportunity she would devote her time, interest and energy for science journalism as a viable career. “That was actually my goal when I shifted to BA Journalism from my previous course. When I graduate, I want to specialize in science journalism or science communication,” she said.
For the past months, Yang read more than 30 references for her review of related literature, and analyzed the content of 3,250 science news and feature stories – both of which are not easy tasks. “I spent sleepless nights reading stories, scrolling through online archives and double checking my results. I thought there was no end to my content analysis, but I just kept going,” Yang remembered.
“When I received the research award, I was surprised. I did not expect to receive such a prestigious award like that. If it were not for my family, friends, mentors, and professors, I would not win this prize, she added. All that mattered was showing everyone how much I loved science journalism, and how I wanted to shed some light on how to improve it in the Philippines.”