World Federation of Science Journalists

Lessons for bidding for a World Conference of Science Jounalists

Vesa Niinikangas

Science journalist
General Secretary of the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists (FASEJ)

Observations from previous meetings

Members of FASEJ have participated in all world conferences of science journalists. We have sent groups from 4 to 20 persons to all conferences starting from the WCSJ in Budapest in 1999.

In Montreal we followed the competition for the next world conference. Some of the proposals were good but in some the focus was missing. The winning team was from Melbourne. Team members stood near the doors and delivered leaflets, candies and souvenirs. They smiled all the time and looked happy. They continued their campaign among conference participants until the last minute. We Finns said to each other that if some day we are competing with a bid we'll do something similar.

At that time also FASEJ was asked to participate in the competition but we felt we were not ready for that. We were also slightly sceptical about a science journalists' world organisation. But in the Montreal conference we felt strongly – thanks to excellent arrangements – that we want to involve FASEJ and fully participate with other science journalist associations globally.

We have made detailed observations of how the world conferences in Montreal and Melbourne have been organised from opening to closing and also of post-conference activities.

We utilised these experiences when we began to plan our own bid for the London conference. We had a wonderful team and we found important supporters for our project. And in our own opinion, we had a good programme, too. We did our best, but it was not enough. After a moment of frustration we decided – still during the London conference – to continue bidding for the 2013 conference. Board members of the WFSJ came to encourage us and they have also given us valuable advice for the next bid.

I think we have learnt a lot from science journalists' world conferences both individually and collectively. We are going to bid for the 2013 conference in Cairo and I hope we win his time. That keeps us active and busy until the last moment – and beyond.

The Day of Light party and other activities

The Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists organises two annual general meetings. These are also occasions where members can discuss current issues in science journalism and science communication. FASEJ has almost 1000 members – journalists, editors of scientific journals and series, university communicators and other people working in science communication.

Besides these we have a number of informal meetings. The first one is called the Day of Light and is held in the beginning of February when the day is longer after a dark period. It is also a celebration where our annual Science Journalist/Editor prize is awarded. This is a very popular meeting with live music and good food. Last year FASEJ celebrated its 25th anniversary on the Day of Light. Gathered were about 120 members, a jazz trio, a chorus of five medical journalists, dancing, wine, food and - a science masquerade! This year at the Day of Light party we enjoy the performance of a scientist who has become a magician.

Another annual event takes place at the Turku International Book Fair in October. Last autumn we organised a seminar with the title "When a researcher meets a journalist" aimed at science journalists, communicators and researchers. During the book fair we also organised six talk shows for a lay audience in collaboration with the Academy of Finland and the Committee for Public Information.

For the book fair we also produced an exhibit by which we wanted to show to the lay audience how journalists frame their stories. As a case we chose news about the Nord Stream gas pipeline which is constructed at the bottom of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. We included material from seven countries around the Baltic Sea. The same topic will also be the focus of our session at the WCSJ 2011 in Cairo.

FASEJ participated in the Science Forum in Helsinki in the beginning of 2011. We organised a seminar about hate journalism. By that we mean professional and citizen journalism which aims to raise anger and hate to other people. Gathered were about 100 people – journalists, researchers and lay audience. The concept 'hate journalism' was created in the meeting of our board when discussing about the theme for this seminar. The biggest newspaper in Finland, the Helsingin Sanomat, reported visibly about our seminar. We understand that it was just a beginning of discussions about this important theme.

FASEJ is known for sending study groups to various parts of the world. Besides European countries our groups have visited Japan, Australia, USA, Chile, Cuba, Jordan and Israel. We visit regularly conferences like British Science week, ESOF, AAAS and of course WCSJ. The excursions are planned by our own specialist members and we also utilise Finnish eminent researchers as scientific guides.