Executive summary

WCSJ 2019 in Lausanne – for the advancement of science journalism

In a very rich and close-knit collaboration, the Swiss Association of Science Journalism (SASJ), in partnership with the French Association des Journalistes Scientifiques de la Presse d’Information (AJSPI) and Science Writers in Italy (SWIM) – all three members of the WFSJ – are bidding together to host the 11th WCSJ in Lausanne, Switzerland, 45 minutes from Geneva international airport, from 1 to 5 July 2019. We expect around 1000 science journalists and writers from all over the world to get together at the modern SwissTech Convention Center right on the Campus shared by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, EPFL, and the University of Lausanne, UNIL. This venue, able to host the whole conference under one roof, is very modulable, allowing a great deal of organisational flexibility.
The main objectives of WCSJ 2019 will be to bring science journalists, writers and communicators together to share best practice, to acquire the skills needed to excel in our field, to link freelancers and editors, to learn how to work with emerging journalism formats, and to meet top scientists. In short: to advance independent, inquisitive and high quality science journalism. We have divided our programme into four categories: Skills and Tools, Identity and Values, Science and Beyond, Fun and Entertainment.

A special focus will be placed on science journalism in French-speaking countries. A dedicated pre-event workshop will be held (see below), and a full project to extend the well-established Swiss television, RTS, website “Ask an expert” to other Francophone countries will be implemented with the help of national television channels in France, Belgium and Canada.

A core programme, concrete workshops and long-term projects

An extensive agenda will be set up for the core programme, including keynote lectures with top speakers from both media and science, parallel sessions, workshops, discussions and get-together events. There, journalists will find a wealth of ideas to raise their skills, reach out to wider audiences, engage with them deeper. And they will also discuss how to stay independent from their sources, how to be more investigative, how to look at science and technology with healthy scepticism and a critical eye.

We will strongly encourage sessions in new formats such as mobile debates, whereby people move around the room according to their views on an issue, face-to-face debates like those in the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament, and learning by doing with media partners including RTS and the European Broadcasting Union EBU. We will hold creative workshops and challenge discussions in which people brainstorm issues in science journalism and present recommendations, and we’ll be looking at the growing trend of gamification. We want a lively, innovative conference that will live long in people’s memories.

With a packed core programme, we will link the WCSJ 2019 to four one-day pre-event workshops. The first is the Balkan School of science journalism, organised by the Balkan Network of science journalists: it will be held in Lausanne, encouraging the participation of journalists from the Balkans in the WCSJ itself. The second is “Projet Francophonie”: in association with French scientific institutions, starting with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique CNRS, it’s ambition is to build a sustainable network encouraging collaboration and mutual support among French-language science journalists, writers and communicators. Some 275 million people speak French around the world, most of them in Africa. This project will also focus on bringing colleagues from African countries to Lausanne through scholarships. The third is the ABSW Summer school of science journalists in London possibly on 29 June 2019, which will attract journalists who will then be offered a reduced fee to attend the WCSJ in Lausanne. The fourth pre-event workshop will be set up in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union and will focus on TV science documentaries.

The WCSJ lasts just one week, but its impact will endure. Our bid sees the conference as the linchpin of four long-term projects bringing together science journalists for further education, networking, cooperation and debate. They focus on the role of science in democratic societies, on teaching best practice through video, on pairing journalists from Western and Eastern Europe to work on the same issues, or on collecting scientists’ expertise on hot topics.

Insights, stories and direct engagement with scientists and the public

To provide participants with immediate science benefits and concrete story ideas, a rich list of laboratory visits will be scheduled.

a)  Around 30 Lunch@Labs are planned every day on the EPFL/UNIL Campus during the midday break, giving participants the opportunity to eat a sandwich with scientists, in their labs – scientists who will certainly have stories worth reporting to tell.

b)  Around 30 field trips will take place across Switzerland; many in research stations on – or even in – the mountains, giving an unprecedented occasion for many WCSJ participants to discover this world within a world. Many more field trips will be on offer in our partner countries, visiting the cities of Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Chamonix, Milan and Trento.

In addition, c) press conferences, d) luncheons and e) the exhibition room will enrich the science presence at WCSJ 2019.

The Lake Geneva Region is rich in science, and we plan to make the most of the opportunities that it offers. From public institutions including CERN, the UN, the WHO, the WWF, IUCN and the Gavi Alliance to private actors like Nestlé, Novartis, ABB and Logitech, the opportunities for science journalists are everywhere, providing a strong argument for potential participants to secure their editors’ permission to attend.

WCSJ will reach out to the local population. To do this, the conference will partner with other science communication events, such as the Neuchâtel International Fantastic (Science-Fiction) Film Festival, which takes place the same week, and the CinéGlobe science documentary festival at CERN. These opportunities will put the spotlight on science journalists and the crucial role they play in society.

Strong partners, and a partly secured budget for a successful conference

For this bid, we have been supported from the start by four major academic partners (EPFL, CERN, the University of Lausanne and the University of Geneva), as well as the Lausanne-Montreux Congress Bureau. We rapidly secured support from the Swiss Federal authorities through the two federal departments of Science and Foreign Affairs. The President of the Swiss Confederation has given us his personal support, while the Canton de Vaud and the City of Lausanne are also on board. All these partners have expressed their strong support in welcoming WCSJ 2019 to Lausanne. Furthermore, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation has expressed the wish for close collaboration on various programme events.

We are committed to keeping the conference fee as low as possible, aiming for under 400 Euros, with student fees as low as 200 Euros. Accommodation in the Lausanne area is affordable, and we will also put in place a tried and tested airbnb-like internal system to allow locals to welcome WCSJ participants at very low cost.

Working closely with the WFSJ, and relying on strong collaboration between three national science journalism associations, we will do our best to make the WCSJ 2019 truly global and the most dynamic, rich, enthusiastic and inspiring conference of its kind.