IN FOCUS: All things science will be discussed at the Science Forum this week.
WITH less than a day until the Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) starts, researchers and science journalists gathered for an enlightening media workshop on maximising outreach, impact and understanding about science.

The SFSA will run from Thursday to Friday at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.

Over 2000 participants, 280 speakers and 70 exhibitors from 80 countries are expected this year, under the theme “Igniting Conversations about Science”.

Yesterday, a panel discussion facilitated by Wits journalism head Professor Frans Kruger highlighted the importance of improving the coverage of science and the relationship between researchers/scientists and journalists.

Panellists were Marina Joubert, a researcher from Stellenbosch University, Sarah Wild, science journalist, and Pfungwa Nyamukachi, from popular academic online platform The Conversation.

Kruger said the discussions were about improving the coverage of science in the mainstream (general) media.

“Researcher Marina talked about how certain high-profile scientists view their interaction with the media. Sarah Wild talked about the relationship between scientists and journalists and we had The Conversation talking about their work.”

“It’s clear and everybody agrees that scientists need to communicate and journalists of course need to report on science.

“Often for various reasons, journalists do a very poor job, simply because they rush into things and are on a time pressure and science often takes time to understand. It’s complicated,” said Kruger.

According to Kruger, the two groups needed to understand each other’s roles.

“In a sense journalists need to respect that scientists have certain expertise in particular areas. And scientists need to understand that journalists play a broader role and are expected to ask questions and bring their own expertise to that interaction.”

Kruger said the reality of the field of science journalism was a niche space that required time and a level of understanding because it was specialised.

“Unfortunately, what we have seen in South Africa is that the mainstream media because of financial pressures have really cut down on the investment in science writing. There are hardly any real specialist science writers and that is a real shame.”

Said Wild: Our first responsibility is always to our reader, whereas in communication or public relations your first responsibility is to the person who is paying.”