STEMPRA’s Summer Social with leading UK health and science journalist

21st August 2019

by Ed Pinches 

This year’s STEMPRA social with the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) and the Medical Journalists’ Association (MJA) saw like-minded folks gather at The Castle in Farringdon. John von Radowitz, a leading science and health journalist whose career spanned over 30 years at the Press Association, was interviewed by Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre.

John talked openly and honestly about his career during which he covered some of the largest health and science stories. He was a self-proclaimed serial ‘file and forgetter’, with the content of many of his stories leaving his brain by the next day.

However, key stories stuck in his mind. These included the Higgs boson announcement – and how he reported something so intangible remarkably successfully.

It wasn’t an easy interview by any means. While he dodged a question over who HIS FAVOURITE press officer was, he went on to talk at length about what made a good one.

Good officers are vital to the work of journalists, particularly in today’s climate of breaking news. They provide, the facts in an easy to read manner and don’t try and sell a fudged story.

John was frank with how science is currently reported. He was keen to stress that science can’t be reported when finished and done, as suggested by Ben Goldacre. This simply isn’t possible. And while he said the role of the press officer was crucial to science reporting, he did admit some fear over the future of newspapers.

Fiona also questioned him on his personal views – whether being a vegan ever swayed his reporting on science conducted in animals. He firmly denied this stating that this would have been impossible, considering nearly all biomedical research has relied on animal research somewhere down the line. However, he did suggest that he covered stories from anti-vivisection groups that his colleagues were likely to ignore.

The interview ended with John admitting that since his retirement from PA, he has managed to fill his time with gardening!

Thank you to John and Fiona for giving an intimate interview, to our colleagues at ABSW and MJA, and everyone who attended.

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