Q&A: World science journalism meet ‘reaches new heights’

Olivier Dessibourg
Olivier Dessibourg is chairman of the organising committee of the 11th World Conference of Science Journalists / Copyright: ©LeaKloos

Speed read

  • The five-day event promises to be inclusive, says the chair of the organising committee
  • Speakers represent the global South and North, with sessions in multiple languages
  • Programme includes over 30 field trips, including excursions into the Alps

Send to a friend

The details you provide on this page will not be used to send unsolicited email, and will not be sold to a 3rd party. See privacy policy.

The 11th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2019) to be hosted in Lausanne, Switzerland, only three months away, has a lofty theme: “Reaching new heights in Science Journalism”.

The event, held every two years, is a flagship project of the World Federation of Science Journalists, and this year includes a host of field trips, exploring science in the mountainous surroundings.

As science journalists from around the globe prepare to attend this five-day event starting 1 July, SciDev.Net interviewed Olivier Dessibourg, chairman of the conference organising committee to find out what is in store.

What has been done to ensure the success of this global science journalism event?

Firstly, and most importantly, we have secured the presence of a tremendous number of high-quality speakers, from different walks of life relevant to the work of any journalist covering science.

We have speakers covering journalism and editing, science and technology, the sociology of science and ethics, science policy and science democracy, and media tools and technologies.

All of our speakers will make WCSJ2019 an indispensable event, full of discussions, debates and workshops. I want to stress that this is a conference for all journalists, from pure science journalists to generalists for whom science and technology increasingly impinge on their beat.

Secondly, we have raised funds to offer about 110 travel fellowships to colleagues from 55 countries around the world. We have also managed to bring a lot of geographical diversity to our list of speakers. This will ensure that WCSJ2019 is a truly global conference.

“There will also be new and talented young speakers, bringing fresh dynamics to the nowadays complex world of journalism.”

Olivier Dessibourg, Organising Committee, WCSJ2019

What will give this conference an edge over previous events?

Each World Conference of Science Journalists is unique and has its own specificities so it may be unfair to compare them. What I can say is why WCSJ2019 will be great. *Apart from the excellent programme itself, we have worked with the region, in Switzerland,  which is rich in science, to build a strong scientific programme enriched by over 30 field trips. *Also, we have more than 50 [email protected] opportunities to discover the amazing breadth and depth of science on the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and University of Lausanne campus, and to meet the scientists and discuss their latest experiments or upcoming papers. These go beyond the scientific offerings of previous conferences, and we hope it will tempt many journalists in search of fascinating and original science stories to come to Lausanne.

What sort of speakers can we expect to see at the event?

We will have senior science journalists from major worldwide media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, New Scientist, MIT Technology Review, Swiss Television and radio RTS, BBC and Le Monde, to name a few, who will share their insights, skills and experience.

There will also be new and talented young speakers, bringing fresh dynamics to the nowadays complex world of journalism. These include people such as Nina Fasciaux, the European ambassador for the Solution Journalism Network, and Uzodinma Iweala, a Nigerian doctor, writer and journalist who heads the US-based Africa Center in New York.

How do you plan to ensure inclusivity for attendees from both the global South and North?

Science journalism simply defined – bringing science results to the public and debating them in the media in the most correct, relevant, independent and societally useful way – is similar on every continent.

Many sessions will therefore address general challenges for any journalist while the programme also includes sessions and workshops dedicated to nurturing good journalism in the global South, helping freelancers from developing countries to pitch their stories to editors from established media brands and to enlarge their networks.

A full-day pre-event workshop on science journalism in French-speaking countries will focus on establishing links between journalists from West Africa and French-speaking science institutions in the global North. And some sessions of the programme will be simultaneously translated into French. Another pre-event workshop will be held in Spanish for Latin American participants. We’ve worked hard to make our programme really inclusive.

Could you give us a summary of the field trips lined up for the event?

The theme of WCSJ2019 is Reaching new heights in science journalism – a play on words referencing the spectacular view of the Alps that participants will have from the conference venue, as well as our Alpine Consortium of three science journalists’ associations from Switzerland, France and Italy that came together to organise the conference.

Thus, many of our field trips will take place on – or even in – the mountains. Have you ever dreamed of walking on a glacier? Or of sleeping in a 90 per cent energy autonomous mountain hut? Maybe you’d like to visit the heart of the biggest wall-dam in the world? Or travel to 3500m to reach the highest research station in the Alps accessible by train, inside the Jungfrau, one of the Alps most famous peaks?

There will also, of course, be opportunities to descend into the tunnels and caverns housing the world’s largest particle accelerator facilities at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, also called CERN. If any of these appeals to you, then WCSJ2019 is an event for you.

Along with the mountain field trips, we also have field trips going to Swiss science institutions, many in nearby Geneva or Zurich, to French institutions in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble, to Genoa and Ispra in Italy, to the European Astronauts’ Centre in Germany, and even to places as far afield as the laboratory of the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, Jordan or St Petersburg in Russia.S o, whatever your scientific taste, we have it covered.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk and edited for brevity.

* Corrections:
*An earlier version of this article had indicated that the organising team had worked with the European region. This has now been corrected to show that they worked with the local region in Switzerland.
*The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne that was inadvertently omitted in an earlier version of this article has also been inserted.