What counts as "interesting" in science news?
A few weeks ago, NCSU's Genetic Engineering and Society Center launched the AAGES history project which collects oral histories from the first generation of pioneering activists in genetic engineering. I've been proud of the way the GES Center has created a neutral space where people can share and access high quality information on GM crops and pests. The keynote speaker for the event, NPR reporter Dan Charles, asked thoughtful questions about memory and our ability to faithfully recall past events, even events in which researchers are deeply involved. Charles used examples from his own research to show how fragile memory can be.
But the most interesting part of Charles' campus visit for me came earlier in the day when he met with the GES colloquium and gave an insider's view of scientific reporting. In these times, when some people question where the news comes from, whether the reporting is accurate, and whether hidden agendas lie behind the reporting, it was refreshing to see how human news production is. Charles talked about having to pitch stories to his editors. As a reporter who covers agriculture, he noted that his editors were urbanites who mainly thought of their audience as city-people and suburbanites. He had to make sure his pitch somehow addressed these identity concerns. The principal reason a story didn't fly? The editors thought it "boring."
Which raises some questions: what counts as interesting in science news? Are news editors right when they consider a topic "boring"? Would a more scientifically aware public expand the range of what gets considered interesting? Or does interesting come from the story telling itself?