Science journalism … ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Not much has changed (!) since Christmas when this December 19, 2023 article by Rae Hodge for Salon about changes where science journalism is concerned was published, Note; Links have been removed,

Advance Publications is owned by a couple of billionaire families. Condé Nast is owned by Advance Publications. Wired magazine is owned by Condé Nast. And this week — as the world reaches the hottest temperatures on record, as another deadly COVID-19 variant steals into the public’s lungs, as owners of unregulated artificial intelligence threaten to unleash mass unemployment with their article-generating internet toys and the whole world needs increasingly complex topics explained — the science desk at Wired got gutted.

It’s not just Wired, of course. Recurrent Ventures axed 151-year-old Popular Science magazine this year, and presumably the last 13 staffers to steward its cultural legacy, leaving only five editorial staffers to crew the online-only ship. There are no full-time staff writers left at National Geographic after this year, and The Washington Post took a tough hit too. Climate desks at CNBC and Gizmodo got cut down. As did the climate team remaining at CNN, the select beat preserved in 2008 after the outlet axed the general science desk. 

Only a couple of years after buying it, billionaire-owned Red Ventures pummeled CNET with layoffs before making it one of the first major outlets to get caught pushing AI-generated articles. Short-sighted layoffs also hit the science desks at Inverse and FiveThirtyEight. Buzzfeed News, with its powerhouse science desk, was brought down. Fortress Investment Group laid off “under 100” Vice News staffers. And 74 journalists at the L.A. Times got the ax. Great Hill Partners owns G/O Media which burned Jezebel and its editorial staffers right when women’s health is facing greater attack in this country than it has since Roe v. Wade. 

“We stand in solidarity with you. You are valued. Your work matters,” wrote Cassandra Willyard, president of the National Association of Science Writers, in a May release. “​​Only five months in, 2023 has proven to be a year of layoffs and shrinking budgets, threatening science journalists and editors whose expertise is crucially important.”

Private equity catastrophes, faceless hedges and trusts, unchecked conglomerates and the ongoing shell game of parent companies — the wealthy gutted US science journalism in 2023 through a number of opaque and convoluted financial vehicles. And there’s no evidence to suggest that trend will stop. Rather, ad-reliant revenue models of wealthy digital proprietors are now failing so hard that their slash-and-burn newsroom tactics are likely to get more aggressive as short-selling the news ramps up to a fire-sale finale. One recent report holds that news outlets saw 2,681 job cuts this year. That’s more than the totals in 2021 or 2022. 

While it isn’t science-specific, the Canadian government has acted to funnel more money to traditional news organizations from digital platforms. The Canadian government passed the highly criticized Bill C-18, “Bill C-18: An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada,” also known as, the “Online News Act” in June 2023.

I have two explanations of the act, (a) the Canadian federal government’s Explanatory Note (updated November 27, 2023) and (b) CTV news online’s Rachel Aiello and Alexandra Mae Jones wrote this July 20, 2023 article, “Understanding Bill C-18: Canada’s Online News Act and its proposed rules, explained” (updated [coincidentally] December 19, 2023).

Hopefully, some of this money will find its way to science writing/journalism and the legislation will provide a way forward for legislation in other countries.

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