World Federation of Science Journalists

Turkish Online Course


May 27, 2010

 The Turkish-language version of the WFSJ online journalism course has landed on our website, and a former radio news director in Turkey thinks it’s not a moment too soon.

When Sukru Anil Dogan was a reporter, newscaster and news director at radio station ODTU in Ankara, he had to travel outside his own country to get up to speed on how to cover science stories professionally.



Mainstream newspapers
Radical, Cumhuriyet and Zaman
“I was doing scientific stories without even knowing that what I was doing was ‘science journalism’,” Dogan says. Then in 2007 through a friend in the U.S. embassy in Ankara he says he learned “that there exists a journalism type called science journalism!”

So Dogan, who recently moved to Germany to work on a PhD in molecular biology, travelled to the U.S. “to learn about science journalism and how it is conducted there.” Then he went to Europe “to get to know other science journalists in magazines, radio and TV.”

The Turkish translation arrived from Turkey’s Science and Technological Research Council, known as Tubitak, and went up on the site in April (http://www.wfsj.org/course/tr/), so reporters in Turkey can dip into the knowledge base that has already been reinforcing science reporting in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

The course is a project of the World Federation and SciDev.Net, the London-based science and development network.

The new translation of the online course becomes part of a Turkish media landscape where science reporting is patchy at best and where there is no national association of science journalists.

That’s a big gap because there is a decided appetite for science news in Turkey, according to Dr. Kerem Ali Boyla, a professional field ornithologist.

He says among the Turkish population, “Many people still feel their roots in their villages and want to remember their memories of fishing, hunting and watching wild animals. So most of our science news focuses on earthquakes, climate change and animals. And of course medicine.”

Boyla praises science coverage in three mainstream newspapers – Radical, Zaman and Cumhuriyet, with circulations between 50,000 and 860,000 – which, he says, cover science, technology and agriculture regularly. He has looked into the online course on the WFSJ website and found it “wonderful” from the point of view of a working scientist.

Former news director Dogan says for him as a journalist, the main carrier of science news in his country was Bilim ve Teknik (“Science and Technology”) published by Tubitak. But though it was solidly scientific, it wasn’t journalistic enough. “Yes, sure, Bilim ve Teknik was always there, but at that time [late 1990s, early 2000s] you mostly found high-level scientific journal article translations, I could not call it journalism.”

Some staff from Bilim ve Teknik later left and carried their expertise and professional approach to NTV, a Turkish TV news channel, and Dogan says in both places they face the same challenge as science journalists everywhere – keeping a balance between reporting that is “too high for non-scientists” or “too low for everyone.”

The head of Tubitak’s Science and Society department is Dr. Sukru Kaya, who is optimistic about science reporting in Turkey with Bilim ve Teknik fully staffed and selling around 35,000 copies monthly. He says the magazine now covers “a wide spectrum of stories: global warming, volcanic activity, CERN” – all of them “quite interesting topics these days.

“Unfortunately, says Dogan, we do not have any association for science journalist in Turkey yet. I hope we will have one in near future,” but before that happens, “we should have a specific department that teaches how to be a science reporter in the universities.”

Dogan now keeps in touch with Turkish science coverage from his university in Cologne, and he points to a new Tubitak magazine, Bilim Cocuk (“Science Kid”) aimed at children aged 7-11, “one of the best magazines of its kind I have ever seen.” He also has kind words for National Geographic Turkey, with staff doing “superb work.”

But, he says, in Turkey’s mainstream print and TV media, there are too many “mostly sensational” stories (for example, a silly story about an “invisibility cloak”) about pseudo science wherever it pops up in the world. As for radio, “I think my own science programs were the only ones available,” and they were not sensational.

But, “when a Turkish scientist – it doesn’t matter if he or she lives in Turkey or abroad – finds something, it is always news, but a very short article.”

Are there “forbidden topics”?

“I never thought there were such things until this Darwin incident,” Dogan said, thinking back to the firing of Bilim ve Teknik’s editor in the spring of 2009 after she ran a cover story dealing with the Darwin anniversary. (She was later rehired.)

“I have covered everything, but I was my own boss. But, even if Turkey is a country in which a vast majority of people do not believe in evolution – second after U.S., to be precise – you can always encounter evolution-related news about newly found fossils, Neanderthal related events, etc. in the Turkish media, concludes Dogan.”

Bilim Cocuk's cover page