ECSJ2017: An American in Copenhagen

By Robert Frederick

digital managing editor, American Scientist magazine

From the time I was a child, whenever I heard the word “Copenhagen” I would think of the song that starts “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen” from the 1952 film “Hans Christian Andersen.” I’d never visited the city before. But I have even more reason to sing that song:  ECSJ2017, the city, and the conference hosts–the Danish Science Journalists and European Union for Science Journalists’ Association–were wonderful, wonderful!

From the opening plenary to the closing Science and Cocktails party in Christiania (as well as the final training the next morning for those of us who didn’t stay out too late), I was gaining a new understanding and appreciation of our profession, being both challenged and inspired by fellow attendees. Despite stories of failures in climate change reporting, demoralizing and exasperating censorship, and discouraging “post-truth” reality, I also heard stories of hope, camaraderie, and most importantly–from my perspective–community.

In the session in which I was invited to serve as a panelist, titled “New Reality for Media: Challenge or Failure?” organized by Viola Egikova, my fellow panelists and I discussed, among other things, how electronic media has fractured our audiences and often broken our industry’s publishing models. Although today’s myriad forms of “new” and “social” media have democratized the capture and dissemination of “news” (literally, what is new, including new ignominious acts and new sordid opinions), we discussed also how it typically does little to replace the work of professional science journalists. So as much as we may be tempted to shout at the world “Leave it to we professional journalists,” our discussion also revealed determined stories of re-focus, transformation, and success, including from those in the session’s audience.

Indeed, our panel’s question–challenge or failure–was not an either/or, and instead prompted stories of challenge and failure, with several reminders that the challenges we face today are iterations of problems faced by our profession before. Within my relatively short 14 years of science journalism experience, online-only videos are hardly substitutes for studio productions, online magazines/newspapers are far from replacing their paper versions, and podcasts have not put radio broadcasters out of business but, in some cases, turned out to be a boon to them.

Yes, it is hard to look at challenges or failure in the face and smile, if only in recognition of seeing challenges or failure yet again. But I would not ask those in our profession to try. Instead, what we do as science journalists is wonder. And so if I had just the 140 characters of a Tweet to summarize my takeaway from ECSJ2017, including particularly the session I participated in as a panelist, I would say “At #ECSJ2017, reminded as a science journalist to be full of wonder. Thanks to our hosts, wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen even reminded me.” Thankfully, I have the opportunity to write a bit more about ECSJ2017 here, and to have been invited to attend.

Photo: Robert Frederick and his spouse, Donna Scheidt, in front of the Hans Christian Andersen statute in Copenhagen.

By Marina Huzvarova: Robert with his magazine at ECSJ.



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