The rising power of science journalism

David Dickson

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net

Has science journalism become a global force for change? A few years ago, any science journalist who made such a claim would be rapidly dismissed as immodest at best, messianic at worst. But any participant in the opening session of the WCSJ this morning might be forgiven for thinking: “perhaps”.

Three factors come to mind.  The first is the size of the conference itself. With more than 700 registrants from over 90 countries – according to conference co-director Nadia El-Awady from Egypt – the meeting must surely be the biggest such event to have been held by any branch of the journalist profession.

The conference has attracted more than 700 registrants from over 90 countries. Credit: Flickr/Pratchaya W.

The second is that fact that what brought these individuals together is not so much self interest as a common commitment to make science accessible to non-specialists, whether members of the community or top policymakers. And a belief that better access is essential if science is to fulfil its potential to improve human life, particularly in the developing world.

Finally the unanticipated background to the conference – namely the political reform movements sweeping  through the Middle East, which have led to the meeting being relocated from Cairo to Doha – has its own message, that transparent government is equally essential.

Here science journalism also has a key role to play, not only in providing information about what can now be achieved, but also in shining light on the pressures that can either prevent this happening or lead to the misuse of the products of science for political purposes.

To claim that science journalism can itself change the world would indeed be delusionary. But no-one can go home from Doha without believing that it is an essential tool for achieving that goal. And that itself will be a significant achievement.


5 Responses to The rising power of science journalism

  1. Francois Lacombe says:

    Finally the unanticipated background to the conference – namely the political reform movements sweeping through the Middle East, which have led to the meeting being relocated from Cairo to Doha – has its own message, that transparent government is equally essential.

    I don’t understand what this sentence means. Egypt was going towards a more transparent government, and this is why this conference had to be relocated?

  2. brenda zulu says:

    hello David,

    Nice analaysis……..
    I hope science reporting may become an opportunity for many journalists in Africa.

    I believe that for Africa science journalism is growing but not as a specialisation for people in mainstream media. There is a lot of sign posting of science journalism reflected in environmental columns, agriculture reporting, information technology reporting, health reporting etc

    There is however need for quality and more investigations on many topics raised by the African media. It is for this reason that moderated online groups on science journalism would help Journalists to ask questions or be mentored by senior journalists.

    There is also need for journalists to think of the business models in science reporting and also embrace new media in the process.

    In terms of scientists meeting with journalists there is need for a Relay kind of program among Journalists and scientists either online and face to face. Career coaching in science journalism is something i would like to see grow in Africa as this would help and guide Journalists in their work. There is always a question of whose science are African Journalists doing anyway?

  3. While science journalism is crucial in the development process especially in the developing world, it is important and incumbent upon media owners to allow journalists, whether in broadcast or print, to develop their craft in this particular field continuously without necessarily reassigning them in other beat assignments in so short a time (I believe this is more true in media organizations where the number of reportorial staff is small). This is what I would like to see not only in Africa, but in most of the emerging nations. As for science-journalists, there is a need for a closer understanding of the hesitance of scientists in dishing out their initial research results. On the other hand, science journalists must have a clear understanding and background of what they are reporting about regardless of whose science.

  4. David Dickson says:

    Although the Egyptian situation is moving in the right direction, the organisers of the conference decided in February — with much regret — that the situation was not sufficiently stable to be able to commit at that time to continuing with plans to hold the conference in Cairo.

  5. Francois Lacombe says:

    Bad idea. A journalist’s association should have been inequivocally supportive of a situation as unique as this one, where the main goal was more free speech and democracy.

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