Keep up with change – a letter from the President

From the Spring 2013 issue of EUSJA news

I am sure most of you know that the UK’s BBC has been under attack for what has been described by the chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Chris Patten, as “its shoddy journalism”.
He says that the worldwide reputation the Corporation achieved for its first class jour- nalism has been seriously compromised by basic mistakes, and he is deeply ashamed and apologetic. Basically the Beeb, as it has been affectionately known here in the UK, has become embroiled in a huge scandal that links one of its best known presenters, the late Sir Jimmy Savile, with alleged massive paedophile activity over many decades, some of it on BBC premises.

With continuing huge interest in sex scandals on social networks (and perhaps attempt- ing to recoup some of its tarnished reputation), the BBC’s respected Newsnight programme intimated that a certain Thatcher-era establishment figure had been involved in paedophile activity during the 1980s. The programme took its information from external sources and failed to contact the individual concerned for his comments. Nor did it bother to check the material it was given. Although the programme didn’t name the individual concerned, there was plenty of innuendo sloshing around on social networking sites that identified him.

This person is completely innocent of any paedophile activity. Apparently one phone call would have been sufficient to demonstrate he was not where he was alleged to have been and when.
This furore serves as a timely reminder to us all that the basic rules of journalism we learn on the first day of our training – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? – should on no account ever be forgotten or overlooked. It also is a warning that even on social networks we must all be careful not to pass on any rumours, innuendos or hear- say without first checking for ourselves.

We are trying to organise a series of “speed dating” sessions
at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Helsinki

With this in mind it is absolutely vital that all EUSJA members are up to speed with their training, particularly with new media. Our profession is in a state of constant change, we must all keep up. Many young journalists have entered journalism after completing only a science degree, and many have never undertaken any structured journalistic training. The board is now involved in looking at training, attempting to raise funds for training programmes linked with study trips. We are also trying to organise a series of “speed dating” sessions at the WFSJ conference in Helsinki. Here we hope to have well-established journalists giving short one-to-one interviews. These sessions will cover everything from how they entered journalism, how to get the essence of a story into the opening paragraphs, how to get and check information, to pitching a story, selling copy, and the laws of libel/defamation. We plan to use reporters and broadcasters covering the conference to act as our “speed daters”, and we also welcome suggestions and offers of help from those of you planning to be present.

We are also pursuing our proposed Investigative Journalism Award. This will be particularly relevant in light of the bad press some investigative journalism is receiving at the moment. We will keep you all informed via emails to delegates and on the EUSJA web- site of our progress in these spheres.

A specific problem for many science journalists is accessing all the research articles needed. I was invited to speak on “Open Access and Science Journalism” at a recent EU/Atomium conference in Dublin. Whilst applauding the concept of true open access I did raise the point that this could have an effect on members’ jobs. I also mentioned the problems of “churnalism” – copy written without time to check information and place it in an historic context in a rushtogetthestoryout.Willthisleadtodumbingdown? How does it impact on newcomers to the profession? I shall write more about this for the EUSJA website and for the next issue of EUSJA News. Meanwhile, I am eagerly looking forward to visit- ing Prague for the 2013 EUSJA General Assembly on 16 March. There are many interesting topics lined up for discussion and I hope we have a fruitful meeting.

Barbie Drillsma,
EUSJA President