Include a diversity of worldviews in your reporting: a take-home message from the World Conference of Science Journalists in Medellín
A take-home message from the World Conference of Science Journalists in Medellín
The 12th edition of the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) took place in Medellín (Colombia), in the last week of March 2023. For the first time in twelve editions, the venue chosen for the conference was a country in the Global South. One of the main themes that emerged in the the meeting was the importance of including the global diversity of worldviews in science journalism. Two other topics that dominated the conference’s debates were the two major crises the world has faced in recent years: pandemics and climate change. Although science journalism has been recognised as a key tool for reporting on these issues, its role has become increasingly challenging due to strong polarisation.
The long and windling road to the conference
The WCSJ took place in 2023, four years after the previous one in Lausanne in 2019, instead of the usual two-years cycle. This was due, first of all, to the pandemic, but also to internal problems in the management of the event, which led the previous programme committee to resign almost completely in August 2022. The management instability was perpetuated until a few weeks before the event, when some panels were cancelled and others underwent major changes in their composition. The quality of the resulting event certainly was affected by these problems. The affluence was not massive and many could not afford the cost of attending the event, which led to large gaps in the representation of the rich landscape of science journalism in the region. Furthermore, there was no mention in the programme of some of the most prominent contemporary topics, such as the war in Ukraine or the impact of new advances in artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, the Colombian organisers and the new programme committee are to be praised for making the conference happen, despite the difficult boundary conditions under which they had to work.
The extraordinary atmosphere of Medellín certainly helped things along. The event took place in the city's breathtaking botanical garden, the plenaries were held in an open air space, under the shield of the beautiful wooden Orchideorama, with a green curtain of trees and plants all around. At a certain point, an iguana appeared among the chairs: the definitive image of the conference. Medellín showed its best face: a city that is both hardworking and joyful, with the ability to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of its past problems, thanks also to urban policies with a strong social orientation – concretised in its metro, in the “metrocable” and in the botanical garden district, all designed to connect the city's largely unequal social enclaves.
Dealing with diversity
As already mentioned, the conference focused on important topics such as diversity, inclusion and polarisation: all issues that relate to emerging trends in science journalism as highlighted, for example, in the ENJOI manifesto.
The voice of the Global South calling for a greater presence in science journalism resonated throughout the meeting. It all started during the opening session, when Brigitte Baptiste - a leading Colombian biologist, opinion maker and transgender woman - posed a key question: how to reconcile the aspiration to universality of science with the diversity of global worldviews, without incurring a colonial mentality?
Baptiste cited, for example, a widely circulated summary of the IPCC's recent synthesis report listing 10 key solutions to climate change. Among others, the document mentions the switch to electric vehicles and the recommendation to eat less meat, both of which are not applicable to a large fraction of the population of the Global South.
The call for diversity emerged in many sessions, in different and far from obvious forms. One emblematic example concerned the work of four journalists who focused on stories about young children, highlighting how this social group is too often underrepresented in science journalism.
The pandemic trail
The imprint of the pandemic experience was also evident in a number of sessions, and many panels explored the great impact of polarisation on science journalism. Brazilian journalists, for example, showed how they manage to inform rigorously without becoming science cheerleaders in a strongly anti-scientific political context.
Focus on Latin America
Finally, a few panels were dedicated to the specific challenges faced in Latin America, that however have a global relevance. From the pitfalls of tsunami early warning systems to earthquake reporting and the issue of mining in Latin America. Food systems issues, an emerging topic in science journalism, were also covered in many sessions.
Once again, the WCSJ proved to be an extraordinary tool for making connections in the global science journalism community, a showcase of best practices, and a source of inspiration for science journalists. This is certainly the most valuable and long-term effect of this conference.
Images from WCSJ 2023