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International projects to improve science journalism receive funding from CASW, associations

The Spark Grant Initiative supports innovation that builds the global community of science journalists. Image: Krista Leroux

The Spark Grant Initiative (SGI), run under the auspices of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), has selected  proposals for three projects in South America, Africa, and Asia that aim to improve the coverage of sciences in the general media.

The SGI was launched and funded by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and four science journalists’ associations in Europe and the United States. Each project comes with a grant of $20,000. The first results will be presented at the next World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ), in Medellín, Colombia, in late June 2022.

“The jury has been amazed by the high quality of the majority of the proposals submitted. The choice, based on a list of detailed criteria, has been tough to make. We would like to warmly thank all the participating teams for their efforts, and we congratulate the three winners, whose projects are very promising,” said Olivier Dessibourg, chairman of the SGI and president of its jury. The jury of nine experienced science journalists reviewed 37 submissions from all over the world.

Nepal

Chhatra KarkiClimate change with its effects in the Himalayan region is the main topic that eight science journalists from Nepal, India, and Bangladesh will discuss in depth in the bootcamp workshops for science journalists proposed by Nepalese science journalist Chhatra Karki. Karki has covered news, feature and stories on climate change, science and technology, environment, health and education. In recent years he was editor of the Nepal News online news portal. The mutual-learning exercise is meant to help reporters inject scientific evidence in their reporting on climate, and to discuss the challenges faced by working climate journalists, and devise strategies to overcome them through intense discussion debates and critical reflection.

A web-based platform will allow journalists to share their stories, feature articles and commentaries on various facets of climate science with each other and with the respective audiences. “This project has been considered as very interesting as, while being original, it is coming from a region that is sometimes forgotten when talking about science journalism needs,” said Dessibourg.

Togo

Kossi BalaoA proposal to assist the French-speaking African science journalists’ network RJSAF  in the organization of the first conference of science journalists in French-speaking Africa, and of launching a francophone science journalists platform, came from Togolese science journalist Kossi Balao, who obtained support from the French Association of Science Journalists in the news media (AJSPI), the Swiss Association of Science Journalism (SASJ) and the Quebec Association of Science Communication (ACS).

Balao is the founder of the newspaper The Confidential Report and a contributor to various media outlets, including Scientific African magazine. He was one of the winners of the United Nations Voices of a Brighter Future journalism competition.

The conference aims at enabling francophone journalists to work on international reporting projects and to organize a prize to reward cross border reporting. “This conference will put the science journalism in the French-speaking part of Africa in the spotlight, and will very likely strengthen the network with the entire French-speaking world,” said Dessibourg.

Chile

Lindzi WesselThe third grant was assigned to Lindzi Wessel, a bilingual science journalist born and raised in the U.S. and now based in Chile. Wessel has been covering a broad range of subjects, including the intersection of politics and science and sexual harassment in universities. Her stories have appeared in international outlets including Science, Nature, and The Washington Post.

With input from science journalists in Chile, including leadership from the Chilean Association of Journalists and Professionals for the Communication of Science (ACHIPEC), Wessel will organize a symposium focused on advancing science journalism training there.

The symposium, based in Santiago and designed to attract between 150 and 200 people, will also provide the basis for ongoing actions by documenting expert discussions of best practices, opportunities for universities to provide more science journalism training and making calls to action aimed at various stakeholders.

“The jury thought that this well-structured project responded to a need in South America and might take part in the efforts by the WFSJ to set up regional events and conferences on science journalism under its auspices,” said Dessibourg.

The SGI was originally funded with $100,000 in conference proceeds provided by the Swiss Association of Science Journalism (SASJ), the French Association des journalistes scientifiques de la presse d’information (AJSPI), and Science Writers in Italy (SWIM), which together organized the WCSJ2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as CASW and the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), which put together WCSJ2017 in San Francisco.

“The ambitious goal is to strengthen science journalism locally while also benefitting the worldwide community. We will showcase the first results of the funded projects at the World Conference of Science Journalists, WCSJ2022, in Medellín, Colombia,” said Milica Momčilović, president of WFSJ, who was a member of the jury. Part of the endowment was put aside for possible follow-ups and supporting a second round of funding.

“Each of these projects represents a tangible legacy of the last two editions of the WCSJ,” said WFSJ Executive Director Tim Lougheed. “And just as these conferences serve to strengthen the bonds within our global community, these initiatives will further strengthen the bonds within our member associations. It has been extremely satisfying to have the opportunity of providing support in such a meaningful way. We want to inspire emulators, and we also hope sponsors will come forward and offer to fund these useful grants in the long term.”