“The market is about to shake out even harder than it did five years ago,” he said, and from its applause, most of the audience seemed to agree with him. But some took issue with Hammersley’s further conclusion that “the appearance that we don’t need science journalists comes from the uncomfortable conclusion that we had too many to start with.”

While most conceded that there will be, unfortunately, fewer journalists overall, some conference goers found Hammersley’s perspective defeatist. One questioned why he is ready to concede jobs rather than examining why new publications have failed to sustain more of them—a fair point.

With so many pressures on the journalism industry as a whole, such anxious debates are to be expected and desired. Case in point was the session’s third panelist—Krishna Bharat, the principal scientist at and founder of Google News. Bharat said that the Web site’s mission is to “get people to read more news, bring the best information to people who need it, and to promote freedom of speech.”

Yet while many in the audience lauded the utility of Google News, a number questioned its impact on the industry (such as news outlets’ efforts to improve search engine optimization at the expense of quality, or criticism that Google should share some of the money it makes off news links). One person pointed out that, for all Bharat’s noble goals, Google has done little to engage journalists at major outlets in an effort to find wasy to alleviate some of the industry’s woes.

Among the 800 or so participants at the WCSJ there are clearly many differences of opinion about whether these trends will prove to be banes or boons for informing the public about the relevance of science. One thing is happily certain, though—nobody is taking any of it lightly.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.