Don’t Ask What the WFSJ Can Do for You! Ask What You Can Do for the WFSJ!

In a personal letter, Wolfgang Goede, the WFSJ’s German-Colombian board member, expresses his concern for the future of the Federation and calls out to our 59 Member Associations and their 10,000 affiliates globally – science journalists and writers – to get more involved.


For more than 25 years, science journalism has been a success story globally. But the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), its staff and board, require more involvement and input from its 59 Member Associations and 10,000 journalists worldwide.

Therefore, this personal letter of concern and motivation.

Our 10th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2017) held in late October 2017 in San Francisco welcomed 1,364 participants from 74 countries. It was the best attended World Conference since the first edition held in Tokyo in 1992. And also the best-documented thanks to the 22 international student journalists who contributed 52 excellent session reports. The US host organizers also made a point of capturing 18 sessions on video that are freely available on the Conference website.

While we are still digesting the fruits of the excellent work of our US host organizers, our Swiss, French and Italian colleagues have already sent out a Call for Session Proposals for our 11th World Conference (WCSJ2019) that will be held in Lausanne (1-5 July 2019).

WANTED: NEW CREATIVE FORMATS!

Since that first World Conference in Tokyo, the event organizers motivation has been to provide to the global science journalists’ community a stage for the science journalism and science writers profession. Their ambition is also to break the routine and to compose highly attractive programs to address issues of worldwide importance to the profession.

The WCSJ2019 organizers encourage us to pitch a firework of innovative formats Lausanne, i.e. debates, campfire and fishbowl sessions, etc. which will increase the active participation of the audience. And, in tune with the World Conference’s habits, many best practices of critical science journalism will be showcased and analyzed because “science is increasingly influenced by private and political interests,” writes Yves Sciama chair of the Lausanne Program Committee.

A TRACK RECORD IN CAPACITY BUILDING

The Lausanne World Conference will be co-organized by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) with its 59 Member Associations spread over five continents, that manifest some of the finest journalists in our profession.

Besides being a strong umbrella for international science journalism and a promoter of world conferences, the WFSJ has been instrumental in launching outstanding capacity building programs, such as ScJOOP in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia as well as an extensive Training for Training programs and workshops on infectious diseases for journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and multiple online toolkits on dementia, nuclear safety, hepatitis C, etc.

But no reason to become complacent. The world of science journalism remains full of challenges. For instance, less and less of our colleagues can make a living off what they earn with science journalism, so they must branch out to science communication as well. How can we bridge these two worlds?

IS SCIENCE JOURNALISM A FOURTH POWER?

How much of a critical force is science journalism today? Is it a part of the checks and balances, so essential in the control of power that science, research and technology undoubtedly constitute in our culture? In a democracy, journalists are supposed to be watchdogs, depict right from wrong, on behalf of the common good and the welfare of its citizens. Do science journalists live up to these principles?

These are just a few of many burning issues we are confronted with in the 21st century. More than ever we need a globally operating pressure group to enhance our occupation, defend it from distortion and abuse, and safeguard society into a scientifically and technologically driven future, well-balanced between disruptions and sustainability. A recent McKinsey study established that by 2030 through increased digitalization and artificial intelligence, one-third of the world population might lose their job. What kind of role do science journalists take on in dealing with this potentially major challenge? The same thing could be said about climate change for instance.

FUNDRAISERS—WHERE ARE YOU?

However, the WFSJ’s human and financial resources are very limited. With a staff of three in the Montreal head office, and ten board members from around the world, tied up in full-time jobs, families and the likes defining policy, finding new suitable projects, fundraising, communication with Member Associations and stakeholders, as well as preparing the next World Conferences takes a huge amount of time, work, engagement and commitment.

That is why we are asking our Member Associations to pitch in as well, most urgently with an International Fundraising committee. Who among our Members would like to volunteer to be part of this committee to actively contribute to finding new, much-needed funding for the WFSJ so that it can continue to develop much-needed toolkits, workshops, conferences and symposiums for science journalists globally?

Ideally, we need a group of dedicated, experienced people, who know about fundraising, who have the right local, regional or international contacts and who can introduce us to potential partners.

To finish, I’d like to quote Curtis Brainard, the former WFSJ president and currently the ex-officio director on our current board. Realizing this gap of tremendous demands and with very little resources to serve our needs, Curtis recited JFK’s famous quote:

“Don’t ask what the WFSJ can do for you. But ask what you can do for the WFSJ!”


PS: In the next coming weeks, the WFSJ will send to its 59 Member Associations (MAs) a detailed survey to gather information on their concerns, wishes and requirements. The survey results will allow us to strategically better tune-in with our MAs’ needs, develop a closer collaboration and strengthen the science journalist community globally. In addition, we are rewriting our communication strategy, among others with regular blog articles of our board members. So, stay tuned!


Wolfgang Chr. Goede /// WFSJ board member at large
WFSJ co-founder in 2002 and active participant of all World Conferences since Budapest in 1999.
Medellín, 26 February 2018