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Scirab Final Report

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scirab science in radio broadcasting

Final Report

Trieste, March 2005


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Introduction We have summarised here the measures of success of the Scirab project, and a synthetic presentation of the main lesson learned, and advices and guidelines elaborated in the course of the project. The main achievements of the project are reported in the activity report, together with the reports of the three Scirab meetings. These reports (which were also made available on the Scirab website) contain details of the guidelines and background consideration developed around the role of the science radio journalist (the Trieste symposium) and the role of the scientists in science radio programmes (the London workshop). We concentrate here on more practical issues. At the end of the project it was decided to collect and analyse all major findings, and produce a book available open access on the Internet, or on sale in printed version. This action goes beyond the planned Scirab project, but it will contain a deeper analysis of all major findings described in the following paragraphs. The Scirab book is expected to be published in the summer 2005. Measures of success The outcomes of the project were extremely satisfactory both from the point of view of the partners/ organisers, and from the point of view of the target groups involved, that is, science radio journalists and producers, scientists involved in radio programmes, and researchers in science communication. The survey SCIRAB was able to identify 75 science programmes in 16 countries. Detailed data were collected about 40 programmes, who fully responded to the questionnaire. This allowed to draw a quite accurate picture of science radio programmes in Europe (see below for details). The meetings Three highly productive meetings were held: 27 journalists, 6 researchers on science communication, and 14 scientists from 16 European countries actively participated as speakers. Several other journalists and students participated as audience, although the meetings were intended as closed, working moments rather than as public events. These meetings were the first occasion in many years (if not the first in absolute) to specifically discuss the role of the radio in science communication, and for most radio practitioners the first occasion to meet and discuss with other radio science journalists, even though some of them have been in the field for more than 15 years. This represented a true novelty, the necessity of which was repeatedly stated by most if not all of the participants. The Bucharest and London Workshops and the Trieste symposium gathered an extremely high level group of participants: that is the leading science journalists of most major European broadcasters, and a number of outstanding scientists often involved in radio programmes such as Steve Jones and Susan Blackmore from the UK, Paul Caro form France, Cristinel Diaconu from Romania or Mladen Juracic from Croatia. The network One of the major achievement of Scirab was the establishment of links and mutual knowledge among science radio journalists, and scientists interested in the radio medium, a necessary condition for further, focused actions to promote science communication on the radio. Scirab was thus also a first step toward a formal network of science radio programmes. The responses from practitioners in


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this sense were enthusiastic. Steps toward the establishment of a light network will be taken in the next months. Criteria for such a network are outlined below. The research A review of the literature was performed and a comprehensive bibliography was published on line. This is a very valuable reference material for any practitioner interested in knowing about existing research in the field, and for scholars who intend to develop original research. Interventions at the meetings were analysed and journalists and producers interviewed on their approach to science communication. Scirab results were presented in several conferences and published in the International journal of Science Communication, Jcom. Most findings will be summarised in the Scirab book, planned for summer 2005. Key findings Given the recognised lack of published research on the use of radio for science communication, the Scirab survey represented a valuable opportunity to assess the role of this medium within the framework of “science and society” research. Our search identified about 75 science radio programmes, in 16 different European countries. The survey had three practical objectives: 1) providing a general overview of which type of programmes are produced and broadcasted in different European countries; 2) provide a tool that could help to promote more exchanges among radio practitioners; 3) provide some basic factual elements useful to develop discussions on the role of the radio in science communication. The survey was carried on through a questionnaire, designed to collect information on science radio programmes in Europe, and in particular to gather details on: -

the radio station the format and production team structure and scheduling of the programme the interaction with scientists the interaction with the audience.

40 questionnaires were collected from 32 radio stations. The results show that the European scene of science in radio broadcasting is quite diversified. Most public, national radio stations have at least one programme dedicated to scientific topics, and several short ones (5 – 8 minutes long) on topics of medicine, environment, technology or politics of research. From the survey it emerged that most science programmes are broadcasted by national "cultural" radios. In commercial or local radios science is often treated in a less explicit way, that is, scientific topics enter various feature programmes without being defined specifically as "scientific topics". The survey showed that most of the science radio programmes in Europe are scheduled daily. Many of the others are scheduled weekly. The duration of the programmes varies from 3 minutes pills (inside news bulletins or magazines), to an hour and a half. The most common format is 30 minutes. Data on audience show that journalists and producers do not actually know the precise audience of their programmes, nor the profile of the listeners (only in 19 out of 40 questionnaires data on average were given). Interaction with the public is lower in science programmes with respect to other topics. Emails are the only widespread communication tools, while phone-ins, sms, telephone and internet forum are rarely used. Also the programmes’ websites seem to under-utilise the potentials of the web: for most of the programmes the webpage is used only for streaming and archiving.


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Most of the 40 science programmes that answered the questionnaire are on air since quite a while, that is between 5 and 10 years. This means that science programmes do contribute to the fidelization of the listeners, and in some cases to the definition of the identity of the radio stations. In most cases, science programmes are broad spectrum, that means, they cover “general science”. With the exception of the UK, where the large number of programmes allows for a higher specialization, “science” is therefore seen as a unitary theme, where entomology and nuclear physics can easily cohabit. This unity is mainly given by the focus on research. In most cases the presenter is a scientific journalist, and almost never a scientist. Most of the times scientists take part in the programme assuming the role of the experts, interviewed on a specific topic. The production team can be made of a group of dedicated journalists, for example in a specific science unit (in most cases) or free lancers, or can be part of a general information division. Details of the result of the survey were published on the Scirab website. Besides the general survey, specific attention was given to the role of the scientists and of the journalists in science radio programmes. An outline of the discussion can be found in the two reports that summarise the activities of the workshop in London and of the symposium in Trieste. These topics will constitute the core of the Scirab book that we expect to publish in summer 2005. Some of the most relevant topics the emerged are: -

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most of the times scientists do not participate as key actors in the programme, and are mostly considered as “the experts” commenting on science news and discoveries, or as sources or providers of information. Some of the scientists criticized news journalists for the ‘herd instinct’ of relying on the major journals’ press releases or on commercially sponsored surveys for story ideas. Proactive scientists might help journalists by feeding them stories, thus taking them beyond standard sources and information. However, the radio journalists suggested that relying too much on tip-offs and suggestions from scientists could risk skewing coverage in favor of those particularly proactive or ‘in’ with the media. Being a science journalist requires a very deep work of self awareness and reflection upon the role played in the process of communication, working as interface between the media system and the publics. This arises one important question. Should journalists be advocates for science, or should they act more as watchdogs? Education is not perceived by European science radio journalists as part of their tasks. Rather the contrary. In some producers’ mind, not only education should not be there, but even information is quite an optional coming along with entertainment. However, f the actual programmes are analysed, style, tone, choice of topics and the way the scientist is presented and ‘used’ in the programme can highly affect the outcome, making it shift from entertaining to informing if not to educational programmes.

Lesson learned, best practices, guidelines. There is a clear need expressed by radio practitioners to be able to discuss the specificities of science in radio broadcasting. It is felt that radio is under-represented in research literature (with respect to other means of science communication such as science museums or the written press) and in conferences devoted to science communication. On the other hand, it is felt that radio can have a renewed, fundamental role in contemporary science communication (the topic was extensively discussed by Scirab in a special focus on the International Journal Jcom, jcom.sissa.it).


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It is thus suggested that: - starting from the review of the literature performed within the Scirab project, focused studies should be performed on the role of the radio in science communication. This is not a task in which all practitioners feel the need of being directly involved, but it is recognised as useful by all. - specific sessions on science on the radio should be included in conferences on science communication (such as PCST or WCSJ) which reflect the needs and agenda of science radio journalists - focused workshops on radio science communication. These workshops should draw on the model developed in the Scirab workshops, but should be more focused on specific topics. These could be: co-production at European level; the relationship between the journalists and the scientists on air; webcasting, podcasting, and new media; how to conquer new audiences to science; science in local or commercial radios. Scirab identified the need of promoting occasions of contacts among science radio journalists, producers and presenters. The richness of the exchanges taking place in the Scirab meetings should be repeated and become regular appointments. - It is suggested that Scirab becomes a formal structured network. It will be explored how this could be achieved. - The formal Scirab network will need to be: aimed at lobbying for science within the radio broadcasting community, and lobbying for radio within the science communication community; provide a fast, efficient contact among similarly minded journalists for quick exchange o information; provide a platform for further proposals to EC calls or for initiatives of co-productions. - The formal Scirab network will need to be very light and non invasive; it should clearly not interfere nor compete with other existing, valuable networks, such as EUSJA; it should not have a heavy burocratical organisation, neither a strong financial burden. - Details on the needs and nature of the formal Scirab network will be developed in ongoing discussions among interested participants. It will become concrete only if and when the discussions will be satisfactory for all. Language barriers represent a problem in sharing material and mutual knowledge among science radio programmes across Europe. Issues concerning language barriers have been discussed in the Trieste and Bucharest meetings. Further discussions are probably needed on the subject. However, it was concluded that: - Language barriers in the exchange of final products should not prevent from exchange of ideas. Indeed, radio is very simple in terms of technical requirements, but can benefit from exchanges of ideas on formats, interviews’ tricks, use of sounds, etc. - Occasions to allow radio practitioners to compare their success stories or to discuss challenges in search of common solutions will need to be multiplied. Linked to the above issues is the problem that most radio journalists tend to interview scientists from their own countries, thus often obscuring the international dimension of scientific research. This is particularly true for scientifically and linguistically strong countries (i.e., France or the UK), that have a strong enough scientific production and a strong enough audience for their native language to be self-sustainable. This was felt as a strong limitation by most journalists, both of large and small countries. Indeed, it was clearly stated that a personal effort is advisable to overcome this, and specific measures should be sought. - Scientists form other countries speaking the broadcaster’s language should be identified; this is partly up to the journalist, that should inquire whether potential interviewees speak other languages. But it should in particularly be advocated within press offices of research


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institutions. We advise that they take into account the language issue by including in their international press releases indications about languages spoken by potentially interviewed scientists. Links among journalists should be enhanced in order to facilitate direct contact that can lead to coverage of international stories: this already happens within the UK, The Netherlands, France, Sweden and Germany as a direct consequence of Scirab meetings. Regular meeting and networking occasions are needed in order to keep the mechanism oiled. Exchange of best practices on translation techniques should increase confidence in using foreign languages on the radio.

Co-productions and exchange of material in science radio programmes should be sought. Radio has very little technical or economical constraints for exchange of audio materials; but this also means that it has very little technical and economical interest in doing so. Indeed, the cultural interest stated by all Scirab participants is not sufficient to guarantee that such exchanges occur in practice. This poses specific challenges that were identified in the Scirab meetings, but will need to be addressed in a long term and deeper effort. - Mechanisms of collaboration can occur at three main levels: exchange of ideas, exchanges of audio material, co-production. - The exchange of ideas, best practices, formats is unanimously judged as very positive, and all means to promote it should be encouraged (e.g., focused workshops as outlined above). - The exchange of rough audio material (that is, interviews) was judged as an excellent resource for small, local radios, but not all major broadcasters would be willing to make use of it. Different radios have different styles and ways to broadcast their features, making it difficult to fit an interview collected by a colleague working in a different programme. - The exchange of audio-material would be better exploited within a "light co-production" mechanism. In other words, preliminary agreement on style and aims among journalists is essential for an effective, trustworthy collaboration. - The set-up of more complex co-production mechanisms is identified as one of the key aims of the SCIRAB network. Co-productions should involve a small number of radio stations (23) and be focused on specific topics. This would respect the lightness and warmth of radio. - With respect to the interface that could allow exchange of audio files, it was judged that the Athenaweb service, when working, would probably satisfy our needs, and there is no need for the SCIRAB network to set up other tools. A general willingness to contribute to and make use of Athenaweb was expressed by most participants. Many practitioners advocates the development of productions which combine several media, underlining the need for a more creative use of the web that nowadays accompanies every radio programme. At present, if a nice and effective web page is constructed and updated, this is mainly due to the good will and effort of the radio journalists, and not to a specific choice made by the radio station. - Specific pressure should be put on radio stations to stimulate competition on innovative use of the Internet (through webcasting, podcasting, and other foreseeable technologies) in science radio programmes. From the Scirab survey it emerged that science is very well represented in most cultural channels of large national broadcasters. On the contrary, science related programmes and science news are much less featured in commercial radios and in regional or local radio. This has a particularly negative impact, as listeners of cultural radio channels are mostly already sensitised to science issues. Measures to promote science among people unfamiliar with scientific issues should be targeted at local and commercial radio.


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Actions to promote the presence of radio programmes in commercial radios and regional or local radio are highly advisable. In particular, local radios are listened by people seeking a personal interest in the issue discussed: local radios could be extremely powerful in bringing science closer to society. Financial contribution to local radio stations or journalists to allow to seriously research and cover scientific issue would have a very high impact. Specific PR actions from research agencies targeted at commercial radios would prove useful, while is not advisable for journalists in national cultural radios, that are usually very concerned about their independence from external pressures. Co-productions involving commercial radios or local radios which would not otherwise cover scientific topics are highly encouraged.

Scirab concentrated on science programmes or journalists specialised in science. Indeed, the European experience shows that science enters many other programmes: in the general news, in news features, in cultural programmes, etc. Identifying and monitoring the presence of science topics in such programmes at European level was judged unfeasible at this level, but would be interesting. - Monitoring of how science enters the general radio programming, focused on particular programmes and particular countries, would be of interest to devise strategy in line with the science and society action plan. A general concern of radio practitioners is their very foggy knowledge of the audiences. This is a problem that concerns radio in general, which does not concern specifically Scirab. However: - It is advised that science journalists and presenters remind to their radio stations to include to analyse the audience of science programmes when general audience surveys are carried out.


SCIRAB Science in Radio Broadcasting - Final report 2005