Professor Julia Balashova heads the master’s program in popular science journalism at St. Petersburg State University in Russia. She is affiliated with the Knight Center as a Fulbright Scholar doing research at MSU this academic year.
By Julia Balashova
Schools of journalism in Russia offer a variety of specialized master’s programs. For example, those at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Saint Petersburg State University include International Journalism, Political Journalism, Business Journalism and Sports Journalism. Several years ago, we started a new master’s degree program called Popular Science Journalism, and it is the only such specialization in Russia.
Training science journalists is necessary for the country, society, science and the media themselves. Global media markets demand science journalists. However, until recently, Russian universities were not engaged in preparation of science journalists. The contemporary trend, named “science with and for society,” means establishing communication between separate areas of the elite scientific and societal spheres.
In terms of communication theory, it is difficult to find another field of public life where media communicators can play such a significant role as in science communications.
For the first time over a long period, Russian media is showing interest in scientific issues. Currently, media organizations are increasing their attention to scientific problems, actively covering scientific subjects in the printed press and electronic media, and have creating new popular science magazines.
The Popular Science Journalism master’s program is interdisciplinary and inter-departmental. The main areas of the program are: a) general scientific knowledge, b) the history, theory and practice of popular science, and c) creation of popular science media text.
The curriculum offers these courses: “Introduction to the Methodology and the History of Science”; “Modern Natural Science”;“History of Popular Science Journalism”; “Contemporary Scientific and Educational Film: Types and Genres”;“Popularization of Science in Print Media”;“Popularization of Science in Audiovisual MassMedia”;“Travelogue Discourse”; “Creative Studios”;and “Environmental Journalism.”
What are the learning objectives of the master’s program?
The curriculum reflects the idea of convergence of the humanities and natural sciences among the disciplines represented in the master’s program.
First, graduates should be knowledgeable at a general scientific level, which in itself serves as a natural barrier to pseudo-scientific claims. The course “Introduction to the Methodology and the History of Science” is aimed at establishing a common understanding of the scientific process.
“History of Popular Science Journalism” considers the framework of journalistic coverage in conjunction with the development of science and socio-cultural situations. It is designed to explain the historical and typological models of domestic popular science journalism, which can be applied in present-day journalism. Students in this course are assigned to create a popular science magazine, including format, content and design that draws on the tradition of Russia’s popularization of science.
The university named the program Popular Science Journalism — not just Science Journalism or Science Communications — to neutralize the possible disparity between these different areas of knowledge. Thus the program emphasizes adaptation and presentation of scientific information for a mass audience through the news media, movies, literature and even travelogues. This feature makes the program stand out from alternative master’s programs.
The program also focuses on the practical application of knowledge for all of the participating disciplines. For example, “Creative Studies” is divided into two modules: science popularization in print media and in audiovisual mass media. In the first module, students write popular science articles and reviews for the popular science magazine Saint Petersburg University. In the second modules, they prepare the script for a documentary television program with scientific orientation.
We have encountered some difficulties in the program’s early years. Only four of the nine students in the first cohort have graduated.
Guys, forgive me! But as the head of the master’s program I’m not worried about the future because do know that in Russia, the popularization of science cannot be unpopular.