World Federation of
Science Journalists

Arab journalists set up new website

December 22, 2008 posted in Sci.Journalism
More than 30 writers and editors from 16 Arab countries converged on Fez, Morocco, 25 October 2008, for the first-ever conference of the Arab Science Journalists Association.

When it was over, five reporters walked away with prizes for the best stories in Arabic, English and French, and left behind a newly launched website, www.arabsn.net, which “aims to be the biggest and most comprehensive reference to science news and research taking place in the Arab world,” according to conference participant Mohammed Yahia, of IslamOnline.net.

The website was launched Oct. 27. Its manager Fedaa El-Gendy said he has been “in talks with several universities and research centers in many Arab states to form agreements to report on their work.”

www.arabsn.net


The awards for the best science story in Arabic went to Noaman El-Zeyaty of Egypt’s Al-Ahram business magazine for his article looking at the economic dangers of restarting Egypt’s nuclear energy program. El-Zeyaty told SciDev.Net, “Science journalism in the Arab world is in sharp decline. Awards such as these will trigger journalists to write better stories.”

Second place went to Soad Roudy of Al-Masaa newspaper in Morocco for her blog post “Moroccans and YouTube: Sex, Mischief and Politics,” where she argues that YouTube is changing the lives of Moroccans who use the technology as a tool to speak out.
In third place was IslamOnline’s Hesham Suliman of Egypt for “Your Pregnancy Week by Week,” an Internet program that guides users through pregnancy via graphics, illustrations and animations to simplify the science.

Kevin Begos of the U.S. National Association of Science Writers won the English-language award for his story “A Universal Struggle,” dealing with Middle Easterners being forced to face the realities of cancer spreading in their communities.
Rasha Hanafi of Egypt’s Al-Ahram Hebdo in Egypt won the French-language award for her article on Egypt’s desertification challenge and how climate change is affecting it.

Walid El-Shobaky, a freelancer from Qatar who attended the conference, said despite the limited amount of science research in the Arab world, reporters could take on stories about science that should be taking place, and about scientific developments that affect people in the region even if the science itself isn’t happening there.

The conference, organized jointly with the Arab Science and Technology Foundation, had many pointers toward doing just that – taking on stories – by making science interesting, reporting on research, finding science stories in the Arab world, ethics, and the status of the profession in Arab countries.
Jean Woo, of Canada’s International Development Research Centre, said after she returned home that the science journalists were “the strongest of 16 satellite conferences,” that linked to SRO V (the umbrella conference called Scientific Research Outlook 5, part of an ongoing series) organized by the Arab Science and Technology Foundation.

She noted that “motivation, energy and desire,” among the participants matched that of legendary organizer Nadia El-Awady. “Several of the journalists were multilingual,” Woo said, and they improvised “three-way translations between Arabic, French and English” for their colleagues.
Amidst a flood of tips being translated, Dr. Kassem Zaki told reporters to be cautious in reporting on genetically modified foods because many arguments, and players, in the pro- or anti-GM camps may not be scientific, but political and economic.

Jeanne Lenzer from the Public Library of Science said reading just the conclusions of papers on medical discoveries doesn’t cut it. Reporters must go through the whole research write-up, she said, because sometimes there are facts buried within the text – she was focusing mainly on drug companies – that can make the real story.

Bothina Osama, managing editor of the science section in the Arabic-language version of IslamOnline.net, explained how copyright works between writers and publishers and how to guard against other publications stealing stories and republishing them as their own without prior agreement.
Begos, from the U.S. National Association of Science Writers, gave a classic example of ethical conflict that arose while he was reporting on a story from Iraq about the use of depleted uranium. He found himself at risk of inaccuracy and followed the old dictum – when in doubt, leave it out – and opted to kill the story.

Overall, Yahia said, the conference was an opportunity “to bring people together … most of the people there were meeting for the first time after many years of online discussions.”




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