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Friday, 27 February 2009

No prizes for kids books

It is the time of the year again for science writers to pile in with their entries for the Royal Society's awards for science books. The RS has just put out the Call for entries for this year's awards.

You have until 2 April 2009 to fill in the on-line entry form and to persuade your publisher to send them seven "non-returnable copies of each entry".

There is a prize of £10,000 for the winner while the authors of the short-listed books get £1000. Sadly, they haven't lined up a big sponsor, so there is no Junior Prize this year.

The press release says that, after winning last year, Mark Lynas's Six degrees: Our future on a hotter planet "saw sale figures more than double throughout the months following the award".

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Science Journalism Growing Overseas

Way back in the mists of time, probably some time in the late 1970s, New Scientist sent two people from to the AAAS in Denver, the magazine's forst foray into alien territory. When they got there, they were surprised to find another two or three locals, folks from the BBC's always excellent radio science unit. That was the sum total of the Brit contingent.

How things have changed. Other reports suggest that the UK contingent all but ounumbered the locals.

Now we have Cristine (Cris) Russell, who is probably too young to have been in Denver, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review about the increasing foreign presence at the AAAS, Science Journalism Growing Overseas.

"The number of science reporters and journalists-in-training from far-flung parts of the world—the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, as well as Canada, the U.K., Germany, Sweden and other parts of Europe—has expanded at AAAS. At the same time, the presence of working American science reporters from major newspapers and magazines has declined over time, their ranks often replaced by a diverse group of freelancers and digital journalists who write, blog, and Twitter for a variety of startup and established news and information Web sites."
The comments on this piece suggest that the golden era is over. "I think that science journalism is a vanishing specialty in Germany as well as in the United States," says one observer.

Another group present in reasonable numvers in Denver was the team from CBC's Quirks and Quark. At the Chicago bash this fine rival to the BBC – I have memory of an embarrassingly late bar bill drinking with David Suzuki in Denver – was, it seems, "not represented by a staffer".

Paul Raeburn tries to bring things down to earth with the view that the AAAS was "rarely a showcase for breaking news". Sorry Paul, but that has always been the case, even when the US science writing corps turned up in large numbers.

The science pack inthe USA used to be able to sell rewarmed science to its editors. Are you telling us that these editors are now much more in tune with what is happening in science?

That really would be good news.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Unsporting gesture at the FT

Remember the fuss about decisions to abandon specialist science reporting in places like CNN? An underlying theme of the discussion was that science journalism is somehow special. True, maybe, if you are a science writer, but business journalism, law journalism and sports journalism, for example, can all lay claim to needing special expertise and dedicated teams.

It is a shame when any of specialist teams gets the chop. But showing that science is not that special, an item in Cision, Media bulletin, tells us that the piece tells us that the Financial Times has "announced plans to cease sports coverage as of 14th February following ongoing cutbacks at the newspaper".

There is also a report on this development on the Guardian's web site. This tells us that the latest cuts are just the latest of many on the FT.

The good news has to be that science reporting is more important to the FT than sports coverage. If CNN were to chop its sports team, that really would signal the end of civilisation as they know it.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Can ABSW members support science reporters in developing countries?

Thanks to Naima Reza for alerting ABSW-L to this item by David Dickson Learning by doing: Experiences of writing for SciDev.Net.

The ever resourceful service relies heavily on "reports commissioned from, or sent to us by, science journalists across the developing world". So SciDev.Net decided to survey its freelance contributors.

The 62 journalists who responded was, David admits, "neither particularly comprehensive nor scientific". Anecdotal the survey may be, but it has some interesting results. One observation is that "almost 70 per cent of survey respondents said that writing for SciDev.Net, as well as the editorial feedback we give, has improved their written English skills". Other findings include:

  • "39 per cent of the respondents said that persuading government sources to comment on news stories was often difficult"
  • "half of the respondents sometimes had difficulty persuading press officers to help them access information"
  • "more than two-thirds said that scientists were sometimes unwilling to be interviewed".
Many of these observations will come as little surprise to ABSW members – would we have produced very different answers to the same questions? But it is well worth reading the piece for more details.

The point of putting something here is to pick up on Naima's reason for alerting ABSW-L. Can we do anything to help the people who write for SciDev.Net?

As David writes "the survey confirmed that many science journalists in the developing world feel isolated in their work, and would welcome greater contact with professional colleagues in other countries". How can we make that happen? Perhaps David can come up with some thoughts.