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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society > The media's medium
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image image image Date published: 16/10/02
  image The media's medium
RTD info special "Talking Science"
  As a general information source and support dedicated to their profession, the Internet has quickly become an essential tool for science journalists. Yet it remains one of many tools which, in principle, should not be a reason for failing to follow up on other sources, too.

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
AlphaGalileo (– 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 ( 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 university libraries.

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.

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