"Journalism is experiencing a big change everywhere," writes Satu Lipponen, president of the World Conference of Science Journalists 2013. "The transformation will be at the very heart of the discussions at the 8th World Conference. Is the changing media landscape a threat or an opportunity?"
Lipponen, who is also president of the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists (FASEJ) posed that question in the program for this year's World Conference of Science Journalists, held from June 24-28 in Helsinki. More than 800 science journalists from more than 40 countries attended the meeting and – as her question would predict – the resulting discussion was wide-ranging and engaged.
The main plenaries, for instance, took up topics that included journalistic ethics, the rising power of blog networks (represented by Betsy Mason from Wired, Alok Jha from The Guardian, Ed Yong from National Geographic Phenomena, and Bora Zivkovic from Scientific American), the essential importance of investigative science journalism (with participants including Pallab Ghosh from the BBC, Pallava Bagla from Science, Mohammed Yahia from Nature Middle East, and freelancers Veronique Morin from Canada and Lucy Calderon from Guatamala), and a closing plenary that featured Ivan Oransky, executive editor of health for Reuters and Connie St. Louis, director of the science journalism program at London's City University, and featured a lively debate over the essential importance of mainstream media.
The program also included more than 50 workshops and panels which explored everything from reporting on violence, to telling a good narrative story, to writing about uncertainy in scientific context (all of which drew standing room crowds). We of the Tracker were also represented at the conference. I was a panelist in a session titled "Misuse them and abuse them: fighting for facts in science journalism", which was organized by Frank Nuijens, of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and moderated by Julia Belluz, a health care and policy journalist from Toronto. (Belluz, by the way, writes a great medical-evidence based blog called Science-ish, which I've mentioned before at Tracker, and will be a Knight Science Journalism Fellow in the fall.) The WCSJ session in question looked at watchdog media operations, like this one, and also included Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview, and Peter Burger of Leiden University.
The session was sponsored by the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship program which provided travel funding for the speakers. Knight Program director Phil Hilts also appeared in a plenary on "core skills for science journalists" along with Jean-Marc Fleury, executive director of the World Federation of Science Journalists, Estrella Burgos Ruiz, editor of the Mexican science magazine ?Como yes? and Wendy Yared of Belgium, director of the Association of European Cancer Leagues. The conference also received funding from the National Association of Science Writers (USA) and both Ron Winslow, NASW president (and Wall Street Journal science editor) and Tinsley Davis, NASW executive director, attended the conference. It's also worth noting that NASW's Curtis Brainard, who recently left Columbia Journalism Review to become a full-time freelancer, is now a member of the WFSJ board and attended his first board meeting while in Helsinki.
In addition to the professional sessions (the full program can be found here), the conference provided a wealth of social events at venues ranging from the Helsinki City Hall to the stunning local science museum to a chance to visit a classic Finnish sauna. And as the photo I've posted, taken near midnight on the last day of the conference, should indicate, the summertime location near the Arctic circle meant that the proceedings were flooded with light almost round the clock. The combination of a smart conference and a brilliant (literally) location made the conference ideal for building global connections among science journalists from almost every corner of the world.
As Lipponen also wrote, this was "a perfect place to reflect on what is ahead. So let's practice our profession full-heartedly in the forthcoming days." And in case you are wondering about the next conference and opportunity to gather the international community of science journalists together, it will be held in Seoul, South Korea in 2015. Details to come!
— Deborah Blum