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July-August 2008

Connecting science and the media

Journalism fellowship builds dialogue between scientists and reporters

round table discussion

NCAR scientists and visiting journalism fellows share perspectives on science reporting during a round table discussion.

According to recent polls, 90% of scientists think that few members of the press understand the nature of science and technology. On the other side of the fence, 85% of reporters think scientists are somewhat or not at all accessible. To bridge this gap and increase media awareness of research in the atmospheric and Earth science community, the NCAR directorate recently launched its first annual NCAR Journalism Fellowship.

Six journalists, selected competitively from a pool of more than 50 applicants, visited NCAR from June 23 to 27. Representing a variety of media outlets, including television (CNN), newspaper (Sunday London Times), magazine (New Scientist), and digital publications (ScienceNOW and dailyclimate.org), the journalists had the opportunity to attend what participant Phil Berardelli, contributing writer to ScienceNOW, summed up as “grad school, with the best teachers on Earth.”

The fellowship week featured a variety of panels, with topics ranging from discussions of weather, climate, and society to technology transfer breakthroughs, solar dynamics, and polar science. The journalists had opportunities for one-on-one meetings with scientists working within their spheres of interest.

Broadcast meteorologists visit NCAR

Close to 200 weathercasters visited the Mesa Lab on June 27 to learn about ongoing research on weather as well as climate change. The field trip was part of the American Meteorological Society’s 36th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology, held in Denver.

The group was welcomed by UCAR president Rick Anthes, after which Jim Hurrell (ESSL/CGD) presented research on climate, Rebecca Morss (RAL/ISSE) discussed NCAR’s Societal Impacts Program, and Brant Foote (RAL) described research applications. The weathercasters also toured the Visualization Lab, learned about COMET modules, and visited “Ask the Expert” tables. Bob Henson (Communications) led a walking tour of the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail.

The weathercasters were split into two groups, each getting a half-day at NCAR and a half-day at NOAA. They also had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion about climate change on June 28 in Denver that included Kevin Trenberth and Warren Washington (ESSL/CGD).

The week’s highlights included touring RAF (EOL’s Research Aviation Facility), listening to presentations by ASP postdoctoral fellows, and attending the final planning meeting of the START08 (Stratosphere-Troposphere Analyses of Regional Transport) field campaign. Another key event was a round table discussion with about a dozen NCAR scientists that provided a forum for delving into concerns that both scientists and journalists grapple with in trying to ensure accurate science reporting.

Throughout the week, and particularly during the round table discussion, both journalists and scientists had opportunities to see science reporting from the other group’s perspective. Scientists came away with a better understanding of the changing modes of media in the 21st century (more online content, struggling newspapers and television outlets), media deadlines (quick response times of hours rather than days or weeks), and the value of easy-to-understand graphics for boosting a story. They also learned that stories must answer the perennial reader question, “How will this affect me?,” and that some reporters are willing to let scientists review their quotes and research description prior to publication.

In turn, the fellows learned that reluctance on the part of scientists to speak with the media can arise from concern that their work is not ready for prime-time viewing and that scientific culture frowns upon researchers who talk up their work or themselves. Also, many scientists are wary of talking to journalists with limited science background, fearing inaccuracies and omissions of critical details in the final story.

By week’s end, a few formerly media-shy scientists were talking about ways to work with journalists, while the fellows went away with a wealth of story ideas, as well as an appreciation for how to make contributing to news stories more appealing to scientists. • Rachel Hauser, NCAR Directorate

phil berardelli and kevin petty

At left, Phil Berardelli, contributing writer to ScienceNOW; right, Kevin Petty (RAL).


In this issue...

An interview with Eric Barron, NCAR’s new director

Rising fuel, food prices affect operations

Child Care Center earns green recognition

"The Hundred Languages of Children"

A day in the life of a SOARS protégé

Connecting science and the media

Short Takes

Just One Look

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