The national coordinator for science training for journalists, funded by three successive grants from BIS, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, sought to coordinate the scientific community’s efforts to deliver training in the basic principles of science reporting to news organisations and journalism students, through a Science Journalism Training Programme.
History and development
In January 2010, the Science and the Media Expert Group published its report 'Securing the Future'. On the subject of science training for non-specialist journalists, and it recommended creating a full-time post to coordinate this:
'Many of the problems associated with science reporting emanate from non-specialist journalists and editors. They will not have the same background and contact list as a specialist to help them make quick judgements about the validity of a story. Equally, many sub editors and editors are unlikely to have much of a background in science reporting. Fostering greater science literacy in the whole journalism community can only improve accuracy of content. Coordinating these efforts and providing content to organisations that want it would be useful and well received. This means providing training content, in a form that it will be used, to: practising journalists, sub editors, editors, trainees and students. Any training material produced would have to be appropriate to the audience and pitched positively – giving people the tools to uncover the next big science story and cover it accurately.'
BIS, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded the position of National Coordinator for Science Training for Journalists, hosted at the Royal Statistical Society in three phases.
The first phase, August 2010 – September 2011, established the programme, and was led by Martin Griffiths, on secondment from the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology. This scoped out the issues and the landscape for training, identified needs, and piloted courses.
The second phase, from October 2011 to April 2013, was led by Frank Swain, an experienced science writer. This developed a UK-wide network of volunteer speakers who would be able to deliver training workshops to journalists and journalism students, produced a detailed syllabus of the key science and statistical concepts that would be of most use to journalists, and developed publicly-available teaching materials.
Vinet Campbell, an experienced trainer and course developer, led the third phase, from January 2014 to January 2015. This phase sought to build on the successes of the previous phases and to develop a sustainable legacy programme for the project, by further extending the volunteer network, and creating online training resources.
The Royal Statistical Society continues to host the online courses and resources, and maintains a network of volunteer trainers, as part of a ‘legacy phase’ of the programme.
Advisory group and volunteers
The programme benefits from an advisory group of Aris Perperoglou (University of Essex), Connie St Louis (City University), Edward Sykes (Science Media Centre), John Holmes (BIS), Martin Hendry (University of Glasgow), Nigel Hawkes (independent journalist), Paul Askew (Speaking Data), Stephen Senn (CRP-Santé). Previous members of the advisory group include Helen Jamison (then of Science Media Centre), Kevin Marsh (then editor of the BBC College of Journalism), Gareth Mitchell (BBC journalist and lecturer at Imperial College), and former BIS staff Tom Wells, Isabel Spence and Juliet Aharoni.
We are also grateful to the many contributors to the programme resources, including Zoe Dunford and Dr Sam Mugford (John Innes Centre) and Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter (University of Cambridge), We also thank the volunteer trainers past and present.