BuzzFeed Editor is not a Science Cheerleader

Being a science journalist does not mean you have to be a cheerleader for science, according to science editor for BuzzFeed News, Virginia Hughes.

The Alfred and Julia Hill Lecture series hosted Hughes for its 24th annual lecture on science, society and the mass media Tuesday night.

Before becoming the science editor for BuzzFeed, Hughes was a freelance science journalist specializing in genetics, neuroscience, and biotechnology. Her blog, Only Human, was published by National Geographic; while, she had other articles published in a variety of places such as: the Atlantic, New York Times, the New Yorker, and Slate.

            Hughes lecture titled “In Defense of Clickbait,” covered the importance of making web journalism clickable, what it is like to write hard science journalism for BuzzFeed and how to bring science to new audiences.

“It’s not my job to be a cheerleader for science,” said Hughes, “frankly, because there is a lot more outlets that are great at being cheerleaders for science.”

Her and her team of reporters aim to focus on delivering science news in an unconventional way.

“We are much more likely to be interested in the story if it is showing something bad about science than showing something good,” said Hughes.

Hughes said there is no shortage of people covering the new discoveries and all the “gee-wiz” science, so she feels it is important for her team to go about what it covers in a different way.

“It’s not our job to give [the people] the truth it is to give them the news,” said Hughes.

While she expressed her goal of the way she chooses to cover science journalism, she also stresses the importance of making stories clickable on the Internet.

Hughes showed articles that contain clickbait headlines, some of which included February was the Warmest Month on Record or Mars Trips are a Scam.

            There are two different definitions of “clickbait.” One is in the Oxford Dictionary and the other is in the Marian-Webster Dictionary.

“I’m defending the Oxford definition of the word which strips away the negative connotations, “said Hughes, “For the Oxford dictionary, clickbait is content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click the link to a particular webpage.”

The more clickable the story is, the more traffic it will receive, according to Hughes.

With web-journalism becoming more prominent these days, it is crucial to use clickbait headlines.

Working for BuzzFeed News involves writing hard-hitting journalism as well as the personality quizzes.

According to Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed Ben Smith, “It is okay to write stories that people actually want to read.”

Hughes said that quote has stuck with her since she started working for BuzzFeed.

“Science is an institution just like any other human institution,” said Hughes, “It’s no different than politics or education; just like all of those things, it should be scrutinized and held accountable.”

Hughes wanted to leave aspiring journalist with the following piece of advice:

“Don’t make up your mind about a story before you report it out. Often stories surprise you and,” said Hughes. “If you think you know the story before you start, it can close you off to interesting [aspects]. Remember, journalists are not cheerleaders.”


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