It’s rare that a phrase like “it’s the media’s fault” is actually a spot on and usually is just a wild speculation or accusation. However, when it comes to science in the news, for every 5 hours of news on cable news networks (a little less for broadcast networks – around 4 hours), you get 1 minute of science coverage. You read right, 1 minute for all science and technology related issues — from Facebook to cloning.
This comes out of Pew’s annual analysis of media coverage and it’s really huge disgrace. Because out of that 1 minute, you can bet things like the Cassini just never get mentioned. I track Cassini news via Google Alerts and I don’t recall ever seeing a national TV news outlet featuring Cassini – ever. That’s despite it being one of major achievements of our species in this decade.
I am sure TV news execs would ramble on about ratings, audience interest and the like. But based on the response I and others who share Cassini information with others see, that does not seem to hold water that it would be a ratings dud. In my informal, unscientific numbers, less than 1 out of 20 people have even heard of Cassini or seen any images at all, so who knows if it would be panned as news.
The bottom line is that TV news networks do a horrible job of communicating science to their audiences with two results – people interested in this stuff (like me) never watch them (and they wonder about their declining audiences) and those that stay end up with a distorted view of events.
Basically, unless Cassini photographs a UFO with Elvis at the wheel, it’s unlikely to ever make anything but a minor science story until things change.