World Federation of
Science Journalists

American and Arab associations conclude twinning agreement

January 30, 2007 posted in Associations
By Véronique Morin

One of the world’s oldest science writers associations, the American ‘National Association of Science Writers’ (NASW), and one of the world’s newest, the recently formed Arab Science Journalists Association ( ASJA), have agreed to a partnership.

The agreement is part of larger program coordinated by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) that seeks to share the experience and expertise of journalists from the developed world with their counterparts in emerging nations.

“We have been trying to pull ourselves together as an association since 2003, and it's been very difficult,” science writer and ASJA founder Nadia El-Awady admits candidly. “To have an association that is actually working closely with us, and to have people we trust, who we can turn to for advice, who have already been through what we're just starting, all this can cut a long tortuous road short for us,” she explains.

But, for long-time member and former president of NASW Deborah Blum, the learning curve goes both ways. “We hope to learn as well,” says Blum, who now serves as liaison between the American association and the WFSJ.
“I see this as a two-way learning experience,” adds the Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist. “And, I would love to have our members learn more about science writing in the Arab world.”

The new American-Arab partnership represents a major shift in the way the US association has envisioned its role in the world. “There was a time when it was difficult to get the interest of the American association in anything outside America,” recalls James Cornell, president of the International Science Writers’ Association and founding member of the WFSJ.

Now, according to Deborah Blum, “The US association increasingly believes that for science journalism to thrive, it must do so as part of a global community.”

The rationale behind this new way of thinking is the realization that advances of science and technology, or the lack of them, affect the lives of everyone on the planet, and science journalists do play a vital role in understanding the impacts of these scientific changes.

“One of the ways, we, as science journalists, can improve what we do is to share what we've learned and, in the case of ‘twinning,’ that works both ways, “notes Blum.

“Both organizations can learn from each other about reporting science out of different cultural contexts. We also hope to learn from them about new ways to energize an association, new attitudes toward science,” she adds.
On the Arab side, the twinning with an American association did not come easily. El-Awady, who is also the first president of ASJA, had to reassure her Board and build arguments in the name of trust. The credibility of veteran American reporter Deborah Blum, as well as the involvement of the WFSJ, weighed heavily in the decision.

“Because Deborah and I know each other personally, and because I was able to reassure the group, which in turn trusts me, my colleagues and I were able to convince the board that this was a good choice,” explains El-Awady
The positive experience with the WFSJ’s “peer-to-peer mentoring,” a program that pairs individual reporters from different cultures and countries, also influenced the Board in favour of the new partnership. One of the Board members of ASJA is a mentor in the program. “We were also fortunate to have a mentee attending this particular board meeting, although she isn't a board member,” says El-Awady. “She spoke about her experiences, and explained that she had been in the US for training a couple of years back and how much she had learned from this trip.”

El-Awady, who is also Deputy Editor-in-chief of ‘IslamOnline’ believes there is a strong symbolic meaning in the new American-Arab partnership. “I think that it is extremely important to create trust at many levels, “she says. “The situation in the Middle East now is tense, and, in the opinion of many Arabs, due in large measure to American military intervention.

“However, when Americans and Arabs work together at the grass-roots level, when they find common areas of interest, when they can create mutual trust, and this might eventually have an impact on US-Arab relations in the future, “ says El-Awady. “I think the twinning of two journalists' associations can have a far greater impact than on just the individuals involved. In the future, it could impact the readers of those journalists as well.”
This reflection is echoed by Blum: “We're delighted to be involved with an Arab-American project. We hope to show that we are capable of building better international relations.”

The two associations, both members of the WFSJ, are the first to officially announce that they will work together for the improvement of science journalism worldwide, within a framework provided by the federation. An unusual WFSJ program called ‘Twinning of Associations’ is designed to encourage partnerships between well-established science writers associations and new –even fledgling—ones in the developing world.

“We want to promote networking, and the creation of new associations in parts of the world where science journalism is not as well supported,” says Jean-Marc Fleury, executive director of the federation. More associations are expected to be twinned in this way as part of the next World Conference of Science Journalists scheduled for Melbourne, Australia, in April.

As for the Arab-American twinning, “We hope to work out of the details—and begin a long and mutually beneficial relationship--in Melbourne,” adds Blum, who will participate in the conference.

WFSJ is looking for well established science journalists associations who would be interested in the twinning program. Already, associations from Canada, France, Germany, Québec, the United Kingdom, and the United States have come forward to participate in the program and partner with a young association of science journalists in Africa or the Middle East.

Associations interested in participating in the twinning program should contact the Executive Director of the World Federation of Science Journalists at jmfleury@wfsj.org



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