World Federation of
Science Journalists

Guatemalan daily makes a big science splash

February 23, 2009 posted in Sci.Journalism
CNN take note.

In December the most powerful cable news channel in the world laid off its entire science and technology reporting team, saying it wanted to cut costs and increase staff efficiency.

In sharp contrast, December also saw a retrospective page in a Guatemalan newspaper capping six months of biweekly full-page science features – and with promise of many more to come.

Guatemala City’s Prensa Libre (“free press”), with its average daily circulation of 120,000 in Guatemala City, pulled it off with four staffers after a little arm-twisting by a determined reporter.

These pages were the brainchild of reporter Lucy Calderón – a participant in a number of WFSJ activities – and her editor Gustavo Montenegro. Calderón works as well with layout designers Manuel Mandrino and Emilio Soto in weekly meetings to decide on illustrations for the page.

Calderón has been in charge of the paper’s Science and Technology in Guatemala section since midway through 2008, highlighting the work of Guatemalan scientists, usually showing how their work could benefit the country, and making it clear that experiments in action look very cool indeed.

After a few months, Prensa Libre publishes a review of its previous science coverage.
A biologist stakes out an identification guide for mammals, using their hair. He says his work could become a tool in the prevention of illegal commerce in endangered animals.

At the end of December the paper (called “the premier newspaper in the country and a local newspaper of record,” according to the website) published its celebration of its 2008 projects.

Calderón’s effort to expand science coverage in Prensa Libre began in July 2007 when she went to Bolivia for a workshop about science reporting in the Iberoamerican mass media. Participants from Central and South America analyzed the space devoted to science at their papers and broadcast outlets and talked about their own definitions of scientific news.

This focused Calderón’s mind as never before. At the time she was working for the Buena Vida section of her paper, with a focus on health, cooking, exercise and psychological wellbeing – not science per se, but close, and her section got more than a whole page, every day, more space than many papers allow this kind of coverage.

She realized that during interviews she had always pushed the envelop with her sources and discovered that many had scientific knowledge that went well beyond the standard topics of Buena Vida, but that deserved publication nonetheless.

“So, as my editor is a proactive person and is open-minded to hear new proposals, one day (last April) I told him I would like to have a science section … there is so much to report, and few Guatemalan journalists or newspapers were giving to that subject the importance it deserves.

“He answered it was OK, and told me that if I could find the stories …”

She headed off to her long list of sources and has been going strong ever since.

A sampling of the stories includes Proyecto Medusa (“Project Jellyfish,” top left in the retrospective page), reporting how graduating students from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala constructed Guatemala’s first undersea remote-controlled submarine for the Guatemalan Association of Marine Biology. About 70 per cent of its parts were built locally and it can test 16 different water qualities. The engineering students called it Jellyfish because it can submerge to different depths as well as a jellyfish does.

Another aquatic story is Atlas de peces de Guatemala (“Atlas of Guatemalan Fish,” second row down, right) about the 20 years of study which led a veterinary surgeon to produce the first such atlas in his country. He had support from a German university for the research but is looking for money for a print version of the atlas, which among other things identifies species at risk of extinction.

Guia de pelos, (“Hair Guide,” second row from bottom, left) reports on a young biologist’s guide for identifying mammals by their hair. He has so far covered 43 of the 44 species that exist in Guatemala and says his work could help in animal skin identification and become a tool in the prevention of illegal commerce in endangered animals.

Editor Montenegro says, “Publishing about science motivates scientists and encourages
readers, because they come to understand our country has good citizens, good possibilities.

“We need to find projects that demonstrate that science is developing in this country.”

In Spanish: Online Course in Science Journalism now available in Spanish

The World Federation is pleased to launch the Spanish version of its online course is science journalism.
The Spanish version of the online course is the work of Horacio Salazar who graciously translated the 8 lessons in Spanish. WFSJ then asked Colombian science journalist Lisbeth Fog to further revise and adapt the content of the course to make it more relevant to Spanish-speaking aspiring science journalists.
All 8 lessons are available free online from the website of the World Federation of Science Journalists at:
Aspiring science journalists who would like to benefit from the help of a mentor to follow the online course, should contact

The Spanish version is the 4th version of the WFSJ online course which is also available in Arabic, English, and French. The Portuguese version will be launched soon and the Chinese adapatation will be launched in a few months.


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