ECSJ 2016 Session reviews, audio & presentations

3rd European Conference of Science Journalists. Saturday 23 July, Manchester, UK

Session reviews were all written by students who either volunteered to help at the event or who were awarded student scholarships.   Reviews were edited by ABSW Board members. Audio is provided where available (unfortunately due to technical issues recording is only available for one of the Conference rooms). Presentations or further details from speakers are also included where available/permitted. Any external coverage that the ABSW is aware of is also linked from the sessions.

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3rd ECSJ Sessions

Highway Robbery: Is Europe's independent science news being hijacked by vested interests?

by Keri McNamara

Science media holds a vast amount of power over the direction of science. Public opinion on a new science story can raise it to the forefront of the discipline or propel it to depths of research oblivion. Such power can be a poisoned chalice unless science journalism retains sufficient independence to preserve science for the sake of science, instead of being hijacked by vested interest. The extent and effect of such ‘sci-jacking’ was the theme of the opening plenary of the 2016 European Conference of Science Journalists. The panel discussion captured an array of insights into journalists’ experiences managing vested interest. It featured a cross-border collection of editors and academics including Serbian editor of Elementi magazine Slobodan Bubnjevic, Spanish editor of Agencia SINC Pampa Molina and two British academics; Professor David Miller from the University of Bath and Dr Jane Gregory from the University of Manchester.

The discussions developed into two distinct themes. One explored the controls exerted on journalism by the purse-string-holding editors, businesses, and governments that mould journalistic content to suit their needs and readership. The second delved into the murky world of science funding and explored whether, in fact, science is diverted at the source and steered towards the interests of the funder.

The 50:50 journalism/academia divide in the panel made for some fascinating discussions about the entire process from grant commission to headline. Gregory, for example, suggested that the culture of our society has bred an environment where science is media-led by what the public like to hear, rather than source-driven innovation that reflects the natural progression of research and development. This, she said, has created a system where science is a commodity that can be bought as sold as news. When the seed is planted at the top chain by impact-hungry funders; the research and development phase harvests the product before passing it into the hands of the journalists who serve it up for a choosy public to feast. Such a phenomenon makes protecting science journalism from commercial interest a mammoth task.

This public, it seems, can have significant control over sci-jacking. In a capitalist media environment, the reader can pick and choose from a multimedia spectrum, which creates increasing pressure to deliver what people want to read. Balancing this with industry-infused contributions can be tricky for journalists; Molina pointed out that a journalist may be sponsored to attend a conference by an organisation; how do they balance the need to retain economic ties with this organisation with their duty to be honest?

According to Miller, journalism can learn from academia on this account. He gave examples from within the peer review process, where academics must employ transparency about their funding source to eliminate any conflicts of interest. Could a similar approach be drawn into journalism? This suggestion caused rumblings of disquiet, and some claimed this could jeopardise the credentials of some genuinely well-researched pieces that appear – perhaps incorrectly – to have vested interests.

Bubnjevic gave a Serbian take on sci-jacking, explaining that the Serbian government takes a fairly heavy-handed approach to media control through threatening funding cuts. Thankfully this doesn’t spill over into science journalism with any vigour, allowing her to publish more or less what she wants. Her magazine Elementi is obliged to become self-0sustaining in the future and hence can afford some independence.

The view from the Spain was a little different, with Molina representing an entirely government-funded organisation. She explained that it was her duty to provide information to journalists and the public, not to question government policy. In this respect she is restricted, though she emphasised that it is the job of the independent media to manage those issues.

The issue of government-guided research and journalism cropped up regularly throughout the plenary. It was acknowledged that ring-fencing, such as that enforced on the BBC, is a step towards maintaining government-funded independence; something which perhaps should be extended to other sources. There was also a sense that the internet age would play a revolutionary part in protecting this independence. Jane drew a parallel with 1970s ‘fanzines’ that were started entirely independently and often grew to be a regional or even national voice. The internet has enabled this model to grow even more easily with the right following, suggesting greater independence could be achieved via this route. The internet, however, is a double edged sword, and the lack of accountability it affords can breed inaccuracy that could worsen the issue.

It became clear towards the end of the discussion that transparency is the only real solution. Journalists and science writers must be as honest as possible. And if we can grow a more open media, perhaps it is possible to attain some independence without sacrificing the financial support that has allowed European science journalism to capture the interest of millions of readers and engage them with crucial scientific issues.

Reporting on EU funded science 80 billion euro question

by Keri McNamara

€80 billion is a lot of money. As Research Europe’s former editor Inga Vesper pointed out it’s like buying Real Madrid eight times over. It’s also the value of the EU’s biggest research and innovation programme – Horizon 2020 – and was the topic of a panel-led discussion at the European Conference of Science Journalists. With Vesper in the chair, the panel comprised four top European editors: Sabine Louët, Dino Trescher, Ehsan Masood and Dominique Leglu who sat down to discuss how EU science is reported and what will happen to Britain’s slice of the €80 billion pie post-Brexit.

The EU’s enormous science budget has a huge potential to transcend borders and make breakthroughs in science that are simply not possible within the resources of individual nations. But does the EU have a contradictory motive? By making science international are we removing competition and allowing science to be guided by the opinions of very few? And what role does journalism have to play in selectively reporting EU successes? These were some of the key questions bandied about during the course of the session.

Discussions kicked off with a brief introduction from each panellist. Louët explained the important distinction between the journalistic response to research and the coverage of the funding responsible for it. She mentioned that many research projects are obliged in the terms of their funding to publicly communicate their science, which can make reporting on the research complex. In a previous role as an editor of an online platform that reported new EU science, she often found it difficult to find a third party opinion on an EU science story,as mutual funding or collaborations can make scientists reluctant to criticise one another.

Trescher’s experience of EU science journalism was also a mixed bag. His investigations into EU policy resulted in a cross-border science story with foreign media partners in multiple languages, breeding more efficient journalism and furthering the story’s reach. He said there is potential in the EU to harvest information in this way across a much wider platform that isn’t necessarily being utilised. This must be born, he said, through good working relations- it’s as much about person to person interaction as country to country. The EU may open the door – although it doesn’t necessarily make the introductions.

With recent events, UK scientists will undoubtedly be lunging towards this door in the hope they can keep a foot in it. Leglu pointed out that the UK has had a decadent share of the EU picnic up to date, receiving around 10% of the money in the main research fields. The question remains whether this will be retained after the impending Brexit. Masood had a historical take on the political forces that have played their part in similar situations. Centre-right conservative governments under both Thatcher and Heath had very insular attitudes to scientific progression: Thatcher declined to join CERN for instance, while Heath opposed the formation of the UN environmental program. In both cases, the UK did turn up to the party in the end,albeit unfashionably late. Over the next few years, perhaps history will be repeated – Masood suggested that the current immigration-pressured Conservative government won’t sacrifice their control on net migration at the altar of scientific harmony.

Aside from the UK’s tumultuous situation, much of the focus in the open discussions brought the dialogue back to EU policy and the associated conflicts of interest: Are scientific journalists covering enough on policy, or are important stories being masked by self interest quietly seeping from Brussels? Trescher said his investigations into EU policy were often met with some friction from Brussels, and he sometimes struggled to get interviews and information that should have been more accessible. Both he and Leglu emphasised that journalists have a responsibility to point out what is at stake, even if it is not of interest to the reader, which isn’t always straightforward as conflicts of interest at the policy level can sour the milk before the journalists even reach the churn.

Despite being worth eight premier football teams, the €80 billion cash pile seemed to get smaller and smaller as the session progressed. It was pointed out by several panel members that the value is not far from what an individual state will spend on research and development each year; the UK spent approximately 40 billion euros in 2014, for example. The scale of research is vast and there are obvious issues surrounding open-boarder science and science journalism. Despite this, it was brought up regularly that the EU science has the potential to be a brilliant platform for science journalists, opening the door for transformative projects using data journalism and cross-border investigations. It was also agreed that science journalism has a big part to play in exposing bias in the EU system, and it is the duty of science journalists to act in the interests of the reader – rather than in the interests of the EU.

Presentation given by Dino Trescher, journalist, Constart network, Berlin

Working across borders and reporting on EU topics is a challenge for journalists, especially when honorariums and time to investigate complex issues is scarce. Dino Trescher, Stefano Valentino and Luuk Sengers investigated fine dust emissions of sinter plants of European steel manufacturers and accomplished to publish six stories in four languages in renown media outlets. Thanks to a grant from  the team play shows what a European public spheres needs: dedicated journalists and the resources to investigate and capacity building for quality journalism so journalists can continue to inform and to point out what is at stake. Further journalists collaborating across borders need endurance, enhanced skills and excellent team play. In addition a collaboration platform – founded by Stefano Valentino and Dino Trescher to enable European quality journalism. Demoversion of the platform shows how it works and what is possible: - further funding mostly welcome.

View the full presentation.

Open data: top tips

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Session Reviews

by  Cathleen O'Grady

We’re being far too generous with the term “data journalism,” thinks John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times. Plenty of journalists are experimenting with downloaded spreadsheets, but this is the data equivalent of churnalism, leaving these journalists telling the same stories as everyone else on the beat – and usually a story that the organisation wanted to tell. 

The real value, he says, is in finding and creating exclusive data. At an ECSJ 2016 session on open data, Burn-Murdoch drew on examples of cutting-edge data journalism to demonstrate how much deeper it’s possible to go than just toying with someone else’s spreadsheet. 

Burn-Murdoch recommends finding unusual sources of data, combining data sources or even creating them, as a way to tell exclusive stories that really draw people into a topic, and pay off both editorially and commercially by being harder for competitors to pick up. Here are some of his tips for telling exciting and important stories using data:

Create your own data set

Quartz created a unique data set by tracking private air travel at Davos, allowing them to tell an exclusive story about the “vast wealth and power that descends upon this small skiing town in the Swiss Alps each year.” Similarly, the Washington Post used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to create a “visual history of Trump dominating the news cycle.” This process can now be repeated easily because it was created by a script that the Washington Post can use to perform a similar operation on different subjects.

Combine existing data sets

In preparation for Brexit, Burn-Murdoch and his team at the Financial Times curated various data sources, in order to gather as much information as they could on voting areas. They included the obvious variables like age and education levels, but also less obvious variables like “Big Five” psychological characteristics (such as extraversion) and numbers of people holding a passport. When all voting areas had released figures, these could be entered into the script, and used to generate graphics that were widely shared immediately after the result was announced.

Automate the process

Scripts can be useful to create data sets by performing repetitive actions on a large scale. For example, Bloomberg found that black people in the US were substantially less likely to have access to Amazon’s Prime Free Same-Day Delivery, and questioned whether Amazon should override the obvious economic reasons to prioritise certain areas to focus instead on providing the service to those who need it most.

Bloomberg created this data set by automating the process of cycling through all the ZIP codes in the US, pulling a webpage from Amazon with delivery information on each area. That data was then cross-referenced with data on ethnicity.

Although this kind of technique is useful, some sites may forbid scraping in their terms of use, creating the potential for legal issues, Burn-Murdoch noted. It may be necessary to ask for permission (and to check whether your data might be coming from a third party that also needs to give permission) to avoid these problems. 

Treat data like any other source 

Just like any other source, data can be misleading and tell a biased story. It’s important to be sure that patterns are part of a narrative, and not just quirks, Burn-Murdoch emphasised. And just like any other sources, privacy issues should be considered.

For instance, Buzzfeed’s story on match-fixing in tennis, “The Tennis Racket”, created a list of professional tennis players who had possibly been purposefully losing matches – but their analysis weren’t tennis fans themselves and didn’t take the time to find out about each player, which meant that they included high-fliers who had no incentive to deliberately lose. Further, although they kept the list of players anonymous, they published their data, allowing a blogger to identify the players they had uncovered, and creating a privacy issue.

Go interactive

People have graphics fatigue, said Burn-Murdoch – images show up constantly in their newsfeeds, demanding their attention. Interactive presentations that encourage readers to play around with the data and explore it themselves can make a data story really stand out, and has the additional advantage of encouraging readers to stay on the page for long periods of time.

Tools to get started

A huge number of tools for finding and telling stories like these are freely available, including data-friendly (and newbie-friendly) programming languages Python and R, cartographic tools, and web-scraping tools. A list of essential resources, links to examples of data journalism, and other information from this talk are available on Burn-Murdoch’s slides at

Cross border investigative journalism: Resistant germs in Europe

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Session Review

by Hephzia Tagoe

The development of antibiotic resistance

Three scientist, Paul Ehrlich, Alfred Bertheim and Sahachiro Hata discovered a compound that could cure syphilis at a time where the disease was endemic and almost incurable. The drug Salvarsan and its less toxic form Neosalvarsan (which we now know as antibiotics) were reported to be the most commonly prescribed drugs between 1910 and 1940. With the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in the 1940’s the status of the most frequently prescribed drug was replaced with penicillin. The extensive use of penicillin and its variants to date has led to the evolution of multidrug-resistant bacteria making it increasingly difficult to treat bacterial infections. As at 2010, about 25,000 patients in the EU were reported to die yearly from a bacterial infection and more than 63,000 patients in the United States die every year from hospital-acquired bacterial infections.

Despite the fact that antimicrobial resistance now poses a significant threat to global public health, antibiotics are still used as the go to drug for treating many infections even where alternate forms of treatment can be explored. Whiles antibiotics can only be accessed via prescription in some countries it can be purchased over the counter in other countries fuelling its misuse across different sectors. It has become necessary to tract the global use of antibiotics in order to develop strategies to tackle the misuse problem. Effective exposure of antibiotic misuse requires a collaborative effort between investigative and science journalist across countries.

Reporting on super bugs and antibiotic resistance

At this years’ European conference of science journalism, Hristio Boytchev from CORRECTIV, a German based non-profit investigative journalism organisation highlighted the progress being made and challenges faced in their quest to track and report on some of the crucial scientific and health issues in society. For example, their investigations into non interventional observational studies by pharmaceutical companies in Germany, which is promoted by rewarding doctors to market their drugs has led to the large pharma’s voluntarily agreeing to publish data on payments given to doctors for pushing their study drugs. Across Europe, CORRECTIV is looking into tracking and collecting data on the misuse of antibiotics and resistant strains through a collaborative effort with other media organisations. Their decision to select the issue of super bugs and antibiotic resistance as the topic for a European wide cross border investigative journalism project was influenced by the fact that it is quite widespread and complicated and requires substantial background knowledge, experience and resources which is best achieved through the network of all concerned across agriculture, communities, hospitals and policy makers. They are working to collect cross border data on antibiotic consumption and resistant strains and to further narrow in on individual towns, individual hospitals as well as mortality of infections from the different strains. Through the collaborative network of different European newsrooms, CORRECTIV aims to bundle together the various data collected at the end of the project and make this available in different languages and to other media outlets. He called on both scientist and journalist to participate actively in the topic and to work together through knowledge sharing.

Although the project is currently running across Europe it is looking to eventually gather data from other parts of the world and is open to collaborations. A major challenge however is the manner in which data is collected and reported in different countries. A typical example is where data from antimicrobial resistance is reported as antibiotic resistance adding in data from HIV and Malaria related deaths. Eva Belmonte from CIVIO, a non-profit Spanish based organisation that promotes transparency and free access to public data shared examples of cross border collaborative investigative projects that the organisation is undertaking in developing countries and how they are supporting the CORRETIV. The CIVIO project, medicamentalia, did a comparison study on the prices of drugs used in the treatment of disease across developing countries, the difference in survival rates and how patents impact prices in these countries and made this data available for to the countries involved in the study.

Lessons learnt

Investigative journalism itself is not without challenges more so when working across different countries. One of the lessons learnt by Eva is how to work with partners in other countries. A few weeks in a country is never sufficient to know everything about how things work in the country in terms of politics, culture and public health systems. To get around this, they learnt to work with local governments.

According to Eva; “we worked with the local government in the countries where the investigation was conducted to use CIVIO’S methodology and gating method in collecting their data. The locals then had access to this data to publish local stories from their own angle”.

CIVIO is also collaborating with CORRECTIV by investigating the antibiotic resistance situation in Spain. Their work discovered high use of antibiotics in the country, which correlates to a high rate of resistance. For both organisations a major problem in covering the antibiotic resistance topic is the lack of reliable data. Considering this is an issue that is so widely publicised one would expect accurate and reliable information would be available, but across the different partner countries, it appears this is not the case. There is a vast difference in data on the percentage of resistant germs discovered and some labs don’t have information on know how resistance is spread. Misinformation from both scientist and the media makes it difficult to cover the facts due to the hype and panic created. The method used in data collection is also questionable as some countries shy away from reporting actual figures. It is important that we get on top of the problem to avoid any future endemics as a result of antibiotic resistance.

In the early 90’s it seemed bacterial infections such as syphilis will be almost impossible to cure until human ingenuity found a solution. Although the initial drug was too toxic, it helped control the risk of a bacteria pandemic until penicillin fortunately came along. Now we are at a time when we don’t know when the next leap forward will come and we have to conserve what we have. Fortunately, an ingenuity among journalists working together across borders can help us do that, by showing the scale of the problem and how much we have to do. It will also force policy makers to do something about the problem and not ignore it because it is out of sight and out of mind.

For investigative journalists, it is not all about finding out who the bad scientists are but also looking into crucial issues for society as highlighted by the examples from CORRECTIV and CIVIO. This however requires a collaborative effort between investigative and science journalist across countries but yet there is not enough investigative journalism ongoing at the moment. The ABSW in light of this has been investing quite a lot in this field recently through initiatives such as an investigative journalism fellowship. The emphasis and consensus at the end of the session was the need for more investigative journalism as well as cross border collaborations in reporting on global issues such as super bugs and antibiotic resistance.

Session Presentations/Powerpoint

Eva Belmonte

Starting new publications

by Cathleen O'Grady

“Focus is the keyword,” was the primary piece of advice from Sabine Louet, editor of EuroScientist, on starting a new publication. Her fellow panelists at the ECSJ 2016 on new publications were in agreement about the importance of finding a niche and filling it well: “A really simple proposition is a great method,” said Mosaic editor Giles Newton, and “Do your homework before you start – you could repeat something that already exists,” said Heather Doran, a founding member of the University of Aberdeen’s student science publication AU Magazine. 

The panel members, all of whom have recently contributed to the founding of successful publications, spoke about their ventures’ histories, and what they have learned along the way. An essential theme, regardless of the publication type and audience, was quality. Newton, Louet, and Deborah Blum – publisher of online science magazine Undark – all discussed the importance of paying writers a fair rate in order to ensure quality. Undark founding editor Tom Zeller emphasised not only editorial quality, but also the quality of design of the publication: “You lose something without design.” In student publications, quality control might not depend on payment so much as training and equipment: AU Magazine’s startup funding was used for training, as well as a laptop and software purchases, Doran said. 

One thing that makes it easier to start a publication these days is that your staff can work remotely. “Publications today can work almost without a newsroom,” Blum noted. Undark, which operates out of MIT, lost its premises when MIT closed the building for remodelling, and now the Undark staff meets once a month, she said: “It’s a wonderful time to run a magazine.” 

Although Louet agreed that location flexibility is a boon, Newton pointed out that there is something to be gained from the “dynamism that comes from working with a team.” Having everyone together in the same room can be fun, he said. 

The digital age also means having the choice to go online-only. Zeller advises this as the best course for launching any new publication, because print means both higher costs and a smaller audience. AU Magazine, however, decided to work primarily in print because of the audience it wanted to reach, Doran explained – its founding members specifically wanted to tell the general population of Aberdeen about the research being conducted at their university, and knew that physical copies distributed around town would get more attention than a website. 

Funding for new publications is a tricky question. Mosaic, Undark, and EuroScientist are all funded by a foundation, but Undark and EuroScientist look to other sources for supplementary income. EuroScientist works with carefully selected advertisers, and Blum remarked that she was hoping to expand Undark’s budget by sourcing funding from other nonprofit organisations. While AU Magazine’s first issue was funded by a university public engagement grant, subsequent issues have been funded by advertising. 

The opportunity to grow readership using tools that weren’t available even five or ten years ago is perhaps the best advantage in starting new publications today.

All the panelists mentioned the utility of social media, and Zeller noted the importance of having SEO-friendly headlines for social media, even if the actual page sports a less literal and more sophisticated headline instead. 

The opportunity to try new things in this period of journalistic upheaval is intimidating but exciting, and it’s a good time to be experimental, said Newton: “We don’t know what the science journalism landscape will be like in five years. We might all be filmmakers.”

External coverage:

The journalist’s toolkit

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Session Review

by Alec Wilby

You might think that if you were going to shoot a documentary for TV, you would need a bulky, expensive camera, and a van to cart it all around in. If recently aired documentary, “The Collectors”, is anything to go by however, you would be wrong. Shot for Irish channel RTÉ on an iPhone 6S+, entirely in 4K, the production team used an array of standard (although miniaturised) videography tools, all of which could fit into carry-on luggage.

Corrine Podger (@corinne_podger), a mobile journalism trainer and mobile development practitioner, used The Collectors as a case-study to show that high quality material can be produced on a smartphone with minimal equipment (and relatively low cost), in a way that simply wasn’t possible 10 years ago.

Given the capability of modern smartphones, Podger believes that good kit is worth investing in: an iPhone 5S can record video in 1080p and costs around £300-£400 for a 32 GB model. Podger’s device of choice, an iPhone 6S+, is capable of recording video in 4K and will cost you around £900. Other devices in this price range offer a similar level of functionality, “just don’t buy a 16 GB phone anymore.”

In terms of apps, Podger recommended Ferrite (iOS) and Filmic Pro (iOS and Android) for audio and video respectively. Ferrite is a recording and multitrack editing package, while Filmic Pro grants you manual control over camera settings such as ISO, framerate and shutter speed when recording video. While mobile content is featuring regularly on the web, TV has been slow to respond to advancing technology although the situation is changing. The flexibility and availability of mobile devices makes them particularly useful where cost or size is an issue and some European TV stations are beginning to show content made using smartphones.

Reuters found recently that mobile devices now account for ~50% of news consumption in the UK (with similar trends in Western Europe and the US) and that social media is a more popular route for finding stories than provider-specific apps. As a result of this, Podger suggested that more thought needs to be given to how content appears across different social platforms. Furthermore, the popularity of mobile devices suggests that content should be commissioned specifically for them, rather than simply being a reproduction of standard content for a different screen size.

Natasha Loder (@natashaloder) is the Economist’s health-care correspondent and uses Evernote and Excel to keep track of her sources and content. Excel, she acknowledged, isn’t the most exciting tool; however, in longer pieces (such as the article for which she won the ABSW’s 2016 best feature award) she finds it invaluable. Each statement Loder writes is accounted for in a spreadsheet, outlining the source and whether or not it was paraphrased from anywhere – something that makes fact checking later much easier.

Evernote is a mobile/web tool that allows you to save material you’ve found online (or photograph it if it is in front of you) to a cloud-based storage system, tag it with relevant keywords and search for it later. The longer Evernote is used, the more useful it gets: building up a large catalogue of material across the range of topics you have covered means that coming back to them later on is just a matter of searching for a particular keyword.

One thing that came out in the discussion afterwards was that users of cloud-based tools do need to be careful as there is always the risk that the service might change, be discontinued, or have access restricted in your country. Evernote’s pricing structure recently changed (which upset many users) and although Loder argued that the increased price was worthwhile, conceded that relying on one platform wasn’t ideal and that she would back up her work.

Loder also mentioned HARO, a site that aims to connect journalists with relevant sources for a given subject area. Loder sees it as a useful tool to find contacts in an area you are new to, or for finding an alternative line on a breaking story that other journalists might not have accessed.

Sabine Louët is the editor of EuroScientist and founder of SciencePOD. SciencePOD is a growing network of science writers and editors that connects content producers with groups that don’t have access to that talent in-house. Clients can commission work tailored to different audiences, in different languages and follow it through the editorial process. Online editing tools built into SciencePOD allow the commissioner to request changes, as well as receive help distributing the material after completion (including optional publication in SciencePOD’s open access online magazine).

The discussion after the talks highlighted the fact that all journalists should be paying attention to their online security, and if your mobile phone is being used in any of your journalism, encryption is probably necessary. Most modern smartphones have encryption built in, though it is worth making sure it is enabled. Secondly, having a PGP key (and knowing how to use it) is a necessity if you ever expect that you might be handling sensitive information. If source protection is paramount, going offline is necessary no matter how good online tools might be. Having a second computer at home permanently disconnected from the internet is sensible, and pen and paper are certainly not obsolete.

The session demonstrated that equipment necessary even 10 years ago for multimedia journalism can now fit into a pocket at the bare minimum, or carry-on luggage at the top end. The session was a sound endorsement of the claim that the development of social media, crowdsourcing and cloud based services has made the internet an invaluable tool in both finding, and writing a story.

The 2016 European Conference of Science Journalism was hosted by the ABSW in Manchester on 23 July. The Journalist’s toolkit was an afternoon session presented by Corrine Podger, Natasha Loder and Sabine Louët.

Useful links

Corrine Podger:

Facebook mobile journalism group

BBC Media Action’s mobile specific video about the Syrian refugee crisis

Natasha Loder:

Save interesting (distracting) stuff you want to view later on another device

Type/draw notes that are synchronised with audio you’re recording (iOS/Mac)

Earphones with built-in microphone for recording phone conversations

Sabine Louët:

Tech solutions that can be used for news gathering

Online transcription tool that lets you edit a timestamped transcript and download subtitled videos

Google News Lab and Newswhip for news analysis, EzyInsights for news tracking and Storyful for finding developing stories on social media.

Noowit is an online magazine platform that tailors content to the reader based on what they have looked at before, and the device they are viewing it on.

Outside the consensus: Working for media that are sceptical about climate change

by Hephzia Tagoe

The average individual today arguably has some sort of knowledge or at least has come across the issue of climate change. Reporting by journalists on how the environment is changing is however one that is met with divided opinion. While many people accept that the climate change phenomenon is true, several others view the issue with scepticism. This divide filters down to news desks posing a challenge to environmental science journalists when reporting on issues of climate change.
In the 1970’s when Wallace Broecker first published on global warming in his paper; Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming? - it was met with indifference and there was not much interest across newsrooms. Although more information on the reality of climate change has since come to light, scepticism still remains across news desks.

At the closing plenary of the European Conference of Science Journalists a panel of environmental science journalists some of whom were reporting on the environment when Wallace Broecker first published his paper, shared their views on working for media that are sceptical about climate change.

Geoffrey Lean, former Daily Telegraph columnist and environment reporter shared some of the challenges he faced as an environmental journalist in the 1970’s and attitudes today. In his opinion, the issue in the beginning was one of indifference rather than hostility and many news desks had no interest in the subject. Despite losing his job several times due to a lack of interest in the subject across newsrooms, he remained professional about his reporting which has earned him respect among his colleagues. According to Geoffrey, environmental journalists are still on the defensive today. In Britain, there are about 10 climate sceptic columnists who lost their jobs in the last 6 months but Geoffrey reckons this hostile trend is not sustainable considering environmental change related issues are evolving worldwide. There are news worthy environmental stories out there that no one is reporting on, such as the drive towards a low carbon economy worldwide and the 90% rate of electricity generated worldwide from renewable energy sources. All hope is not lost though. Geoffrey expressed his optimism in the return of environmental journalism saying; “Environmental journalism will be on the up again”.

Looking across Europe to Russia, journalists at the time knew nothing about global warming according to Viola Egikova, science desk chief of the Moscow daily newspaper. The environmental stories reported situations as they were with regards to green house, nature protection and wildlife. As information on climate change came to light, it became clear that climate change was not just a scientific matter but one of political and economic concern. What has transpired as a result is a change in tone on how environmental related stories are now reported. Some of the articles that are published on the subject are of contrasting views which are not the opinions of the science journalists but rather political journalists and writers with political affiliations. Issues of nature protection and other environmental matters that use to be reported as they were, are now reported as a matter of political and economic speculation. It is important to point out that even within the scientific community, there is a divide in opinion with regards to climate change. While it is always interesting to write about sceptical points where two experts are concerned, the element of science journalism is lost when the scepticism reported is for political and lobbying purposes.

The influence of government on climate change isn’t necessarily a bad thing as they are in a position to push the agenda as highlighted by Ben Jackson, former environment editor of The Sun. There has however been a serious change in attitude towards climate change from the UK government as highlighted by examples of David Cameron and Teresa May. When the former prime minister was initially elected, he was very keen on the issue and even had a wind turbine attached to his house. This later had to be removed for being put in the wrong place and the wind turbine never returned. With Teresa Mays’, government, there’s been the creation of a new department of business, energy and industrial strategy where climate change has been taken out, indicating they are not as keen on the issue. Ben’s 7-year period in his role has also seen a decline in the interest of environmental news across news desks. One of the reasons for this shift is the feeling that the issue has moved on and medical journalism has risen up the chain. In his opinion, the journalism has not been as good as it can be and he challenged journalists to bring back the interesting environmental related stories.
Louise Gray, writer and freelance environmental journalist, formerly environment correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, was in the role at the time when climate change was front page news. Similar to Viola’s experience in Russia, the scientific stories did not just report on the problem but also gave space to the opinions of the scientific sceptics. Again, she found that the more sceptical stories were written by political journalists. Similar to the trend shared by Ben and Geoffrey, Louise has also noticed that over the years, her environmental related stories have shifted from the front page to the back pages which has been accompanied by a decline in scepticism. For Louise, she has now had to move away from reporting on the environmental news stories and is now writing about food. Whiles she still considers herself an environmental journalist, she has learnt to report through her personal experience with food, as editors are more interested in such topics.
Truth is, despite the publication of the facts, the public don’t pick up on the extent of the climate change issue and although many believe climate change is happening there is divided opinion about the rate at which this is actually happening. If environmental journalists really want policy change, they need not patronise the sceptics but rather think of new ways to address the problem. One way to by utilising social media as a place where journalist can pick on what readers are interested in with regards to the environment and reach them through the trend.

The global warming trend predicted by Wallace Broecker’s in his 1975 publication is still unfolding yet the issue in no longer front page news. Chair of the panel, Steve Connor, former science editor of the Independent, summed up the issue by simply asking; How do you write a story about a slow motion disaster and how many times can you report on it? As Tim Radford, former science editor of the Guardian put it, journalism is supposed to be compelling and interesting and it is the challenge of environmental journalist to keep the story alive. Perhaps through this, environmental journalism will be on the rise again.