To report on an event, you first
have to know it has happened. Traditionally, science journalists,
just like any other journalists, depended on contacts in the relevant
circles, their address book and sometimes press agencies to cover
news in their field – providing a necessarily partial view.
The Internet changed all that, first by opening up a vast field
of exploration, then by hosting services specifically designed for
the media, often combining a website and e-mail. 'The difficulty
of obtaining recent and, above all, reliable information on the
discoveries of European research teams can be partly overcome by
developing Internet services such as AlphaGalileo,' stresses Claude
Birraux, author of a recent report on scientific communication for
the Council of Europe. He is referring to the genuine on-line press
centre, dedicated to European science, technology and medicine,
and recently expanded to include the arts.
On-line press agencies
run by the British Association for the Advancement of Science and
financed by a number of governments, foundations and scientific
institutions in mainland Europe as well as the European Union –
aims to provide a counterbalance to US domination in the field of
disseminating scientific information, as well as to the US tendency
not to mention research carried out elsewhere. It gives professional
journalists a factual view of scientific news through access to
press releases and other news from all European players –
research bodies, companies, governments, learned societies, press
agencies, etc. – as well as the contact particulars of experts
in various fields.
In addition to its portal which can be consulted
at any time, AlphaGalileo offers a mail alert service automatically
notifying any registered journalist of developments in his or her
fields of interest. Although it is open to the general public, information
still under an embargo is, of course, only circulated to professional
journalists. The British journalist Colin Weeks says that 'a recent
study showed that three-quarters of professionals find the service
efficient, and 20% said it encouraged them to write more articles
on European science and technology'.
A European site, AlphaGalileo supplements the
American site Eurekalert (http://www.eurekalert.org/).
Journalists naturally use them both.
Rules of the trade
The Internet gives the press the chance to discover a vast amount
of scientific information from many different sources. Although
the mix of genres and the difficulty of differentiating between
reliable and less reliable sources can be an obstacle to Internet
use by the general public, this is not, in theory, a problem for
these professionals. They are most probably the biggest users of
document resources such as fundamental databases compiled by scientists,
bibliographical bases, the portals of academic institutions and
other scientific bodies, as well as the valuable metasites of certain
Direct access to information from a computer keyboard,
whether circulated by on-line press services or obtained from databases,
does not mean, however, that it is no longer necessary to apply
the traditional methods of journalistic investigation. The Internet
is a vital tool for scientific journalists, provided they continue
to get out and about.