Programme

The programme: critical, independent, truly global… and thinking positive

Science and technology play a central role in the modern world; indeed they drive much of its fast ongoing transformation. So it is crucial for our common future that science and technology receive in depth and critical journalistic coverage of the highest quality. This conference aims to contribute to this goal by strengthening the professional, ethical and technical skills of science journalists; by increasing their knowledge of recent developments in science; and by improving their understanding of the forces that shape it.

Our conference will be independent and critical. Because science has never been so powerful, many forces strive to deform it to serve their agendas: corporations, politicians, ideologues… Journalists need to remain constantly sceptical and watchful, and we want to help them with tips and insights.

Our conference will be open and innovative. New ideas and new practices are constantly emerging, and we will strive to harness the best and bring them to Lausanne. To do this we will seek input, until the last minute before the conference, not only from established experts and organisations, but also from innovators in a variety of fields.

Gathering journalists to discuss and network is always useful – but our intention is to achieve more: we want to take science journalism to new heights! And this in every part of the world: we want our conference to be truly global, starting from the conception phase, involving inputs from all interested WFSJ member associations.

Our conference will think positive. Times may be chal- lenging, but they offer unprecedented possibilities. Never have we had such a variety of tools to tell our stories in an attractive way, to access information and data, to verify facts. Nor have we had so many means to interact with our audiences, measure the impact of our stories, and improve our work accordingly. We will focus on discussing creative and impactful ways of taking advantage of this journalistic bonanza.

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Four major themes

Participants will be offered a dense four-day professional programme (1-4 July 2019) that will form the core of the conference. To help journalists orient themselves in the programme and to make sure no important issue is forgotten, the core programme will be split into four major themes.

Skills and tools

This theme will help participants find and tell better stories, by:

  • pointing out best practice in science journalism
  • presenting the newest and most promising tools
  • sharing experience of successes and failures
  • finding out how to browse data and publications
  • mastering new formats and media
  • protecting sources
  • pitching efficiently to editors
  • finding original stories
  • avoiding hype
  • tracking conflicts of interest

It will all be there, with the world’s best experts and a decidedly hands-on focus.

In addition, the Swiss broadcaster RTS is currently building a completely new infrastructure on the EPFL campus to host RTS studios, with a strongly-focused programme on innovations in the media, bringing together journalists, scientists and technicians to develop new digital and technical tools and formats for journalism. This programme will start during summer 2017; the WCSJ workshops and sessions, and the conference as a whole, will strongly benefit from its first outcomes in 2019.

Identity and values

There is so little spare time in the day-to-day scramble – yet we need time more than ever to reflect on issues related to our values, our ethics, our organisations and our practices. At WCSJ 2019 there will be time devoted to:

  • discussing how we should deal with pressures in general, and in particular from political regimes and religious authorities
  • managing our own economic challenges
  • dealing with the impact of fake news inside the public sphere
  • funding the stories that need to be told without
  • compromising our independence
  • finding ways to build teams and establish cross border
  • collaboration
  • improving our profession’s diversity.
  • making the most of social media without drowning

Science and beyond

Science is what we are all passionate about – but what is happening to it? Where is it heading? What forces are shaping it, and what does this mean for the way we cover it? This theme will put the spotlight on new, fascinating and sometimes troubling scientific developments like:

  • new gene modification techniques
  • advances in neurosciences
  • renewable energies
  • new space conquest
  • personalized health
  • rewriting human history
  • animal experimentation
  • Big Data handling
  • new transportation systems
  • revolutionary electronics

But the theme will also go further. It will question the trends, explore what is going on behind the scenes of science, and it will put a strong focus on the critical thinking so essential to science journalism. Fraud, corporate influence, laboratory accidents, gender bias, ideology – no subject will be taboo.

Fun and entertainment

Science has an image problem. Conveying it to the public doesn’t have to be boring, or even serious. Let’s hear from the people who are testing smart and entertaining ways to take science to the public. Of course, these will all be highly rational science communication experts, but some of them will:

  • sing science
  • act science
  • draw science in comics
  • put science in fiction or games.

Others will laugh at science, build dystopias or use it for poetry – let’s hear from them all!

Implementing new session formats

We have all heard the complaints about the monotony of powerpoint presentations and traditional conference sessions, and we plan to do something about it. While traditional sessions will always have a place in any conference, we plan to mix things up a bit. Our conference will seek to innovate and encourage experimentation with new session formats. Here are some ideas that have already been submitted, and more will certainly come!

1)  The Moving debate, organisable on any hot topic: neither debaters nor audience are seated, and participants are invited to move towards or away from the debaters as their opinion evolves along with the discussion.

 

2)  Challenge sessions are collective brainstormings organised around a challenge for journalism – for example: “How can journalists avoid reporting flawed news?” Participants will come up with recommendations and prioritize them, with the conclusions being summed up in a plenary.

 

3)  The House of Commons debates have already appeared in some world conferences. They mimic the British parliament, and the chair encourages all participants to join in and express strong and vocal opinions.

 

4)  The Science kino: participants have 24 hours to shoot a short movie on a subject drawn from a hat. Experts and scientists are provided, and volunteer journalists and scientists take on the roles of actors, technicians and whatever else is needed to make the film. Movies are screened and a winner elected during the happy hour at the Social Hub (see Social events chapter).

 

5)  Hands-on: a series of short, crisp and small group workshops led by an experienced practitioner. Topics? Just ask yourself: “What skill would I like to learn in two hours?” Drones, sound for multimedia, gamification, video with your phone… the possibilities are endless.

 

6)  In conversation with… On stage, a very skilled science journalist asks questions of a leading scientist on a subject of topical interest. The live 20 minute interview is recorded and then played back with a running com- mentary from the journalist, who explains the rationale behind the questioning. In short, a masterclass in good interview technique.

Furthermore, in partnership with the Neuchâtel International Fantastic (science-fiction) Film Festival, NIFFF (see Public outreach), which is taking place the same week as WCSJ 2019, we will co-host a symposium and workshop for script writers. This will be useful for television and science documentary writers attending WCSJ 2019, and will feature scientists with an interest in exploring the possibilities this format offers. Two more symposia and workshops organised by NIFFF will be open to to WCSJ 2019 participants and will cover the subjects of gamification (in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences and Art Western Switzerland) and immersive media.