Croatia’s Tanja Rudez wins the first European Science Writer of the Year award

tanja-460_865359S0Croatian science journalist, Tanja Rudez of Jutarnji List daily national newspaper, has won the first European Science Writer of the Year award, beating colleagues from the Netherlands and the UK, who came second and third.

The award is run the by the Association of British Science writers, with support from Janssen Research and Development.

The winners were announced at the ABSW Science Writers Awards Ceremony on 25th June in London, following the ABSW’s first ever Science Journalism Summer School.

“This is the first year for our latest award, European Science Writer of the Year,” said Martin Ince, Chair of the judging panel and President of the ABSW. “The Award has provided a great opportunity to learn more about our colleagues throughout Europe.”

Jop De Vrieze, freelance journalist, from the Netherlands who was nominated by VWN (Dutch Association of Science Journalists) came second, and Ewen Callaway, senior reporter at Nature, UK, nominated by the Association of British Science Writers, came third. Other nominees were from France, Italy, and Montenegro.

The award constituted great recognition of Tanja’s hard work over the years, as she tirelessly reported on developments in local and global science and research policy.

We like to complain in Eastern Europe and blame others for the state we’re in, and I’m the first to call for more and better science reporting in the region, especially about research done by scientists who work there.

But there are a few individuals who are talented, entreprenurial and lucky enough to be able to do science journalism of the highest quality, equalling what is being written anywhere else in the world. Tanja is one of them.

Nenad Jarić Dauenhauer, science reporter at tPortal in Croatia, who was also nominated for the award, is another world-class science journalist from the region, and there are other examples. Tina Popovic, reporter at Vijesti newspaper from Montenegro got an honorable mention for brave investigative reporting on the alleged scientific misconduct of government minister. Sloboban Bubnjevic from Serbia just launched a popular science magazine, Elementi, and has started a regional network of science journalists, Mreza Naucnih Novinara. Natalija Boskovic, a young freelancer from Montenegro, recently helped start an online portal there with science news.

We met some of these people at the recent Balkan School of Science Journalism, in Belgrade and then in Podgorica, supported by UNESCO. What this showed was that talent and enthusiasm amongst young people abound, but there’s a terrible lack of work and training opportunities for them.

Some have taken things into their own hands, such as the handful of individuals mentioned above.

But all too often these people and their work are the exception rather than the rule. Their exception results from a combination of hard work, talent, and helpful circumstances – a friendly editor, a media owner who doesn’t mind science, etc.

We could do much better to foster more science in the media and provide paid opportunities for people to write about science (whether in a university or media context).

Why does it matter? At a time when Europe at large is struggling to keep up in an innovative global marketplace, without well educated and informed citizens and good science eastern Europe is in real danger of falling behind in socio-economic development. Not only may it not catch up, but it may fall even further behind western Europe.

Take its ageing transport infrastructure as an example. High-speed train links and superior highways with frequent bus services largely come to an end as you reach eastern Europe.

A recent anecdote illustrates the point well. At the first Balkan School of Science Journalism in Belgrade, I spoke to colleagues from the capital cities of the neighbouring countries, Zagreb, Budapest, Sarajevo and Podgorica, to find out how they travelled to Belgrade. It turns out it took every one of us about 7-9 hours of gruelling travel on trains or buses. At a distance of around 300 km, this would only take the latest generation maglev trains from Japan about half an hour, or an hour on western Europe’s high-speed trains.

Unfortunately, we’re still stuck with railways built in the 19th century and ageing 20th century technology – and our people often don’t even know what they’re missing. Without sufficient science journalism, there’s no one to tell them.