14

Communication or spin? Source-media
relations in science journalism
Alison Anderson, Alan Petersen and Matthew David
How do pluralist, critical and risk theories interpret power relations within source-media interactions?
Can there ever be a 'correct' or 'accurate' news portrayal of science?
Are recent attempts by scientists to improve their media reporting evidence of openness or spin?

This chapter examines the contribution that the study of source-media interactions has made, and can make, to contemporary science journalism. It examines some theories pertaining to source-journalist dynamics and recent evidence on science news production processes, making particular reference to findings on medical genetics news. It is argued that the study of how science news is produced, and in particular how scientists and journalists see their respective roles in the news production process, is crucial to understanding both the public representation of science and the formation of policy. Recent controversies about the nature and accuracy of reporting in relation to issues such as cloning, embryonic stem cells, and nanotechnology have highlighted the need for journalists to develop an in-depth understanding of the social processes influencing their practice.


Mapping the field

Since the mid-1990s the interaction between news sources and the news media has become an increasingly important area of research within journalism studies. With the growth of the public relations industry, and the politics of 'spin', more attention has focused upon the ways in which contending voices seek to get their message across through the news media. The significance of understanding source-media relations was emphasized in the UK in 2003 to 2004 with the controversy surrounding news reporting on

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