Embracing digital in a new era of science journalism

21st July 2014

by Emma Knott

Last week I attended the UK Conference of Science Journalists, organised by the Association of British Science Writers, to hear from the pros what it really takes to make it in the world of science journalism. As always, there was a fantastic line up of speakers – from national and international journalists to leading scientists! Jim Giles even appeared to break the space-time continuum by participating in parallel panel sessions simultaneously (I can only assume he has some serious connections with the quantum physics elite).

For me, a key theme running throughout the conference was the role of the science journalist in the digital world. Over the past 10 years, and even more recently, the way we consume information has changed dramatically. It’s no longer just print media, but an array of sources and formats that people turn to for news. Digital platforms offer huge scope for telling science stories with more immediacy, clarity and interactivity. In a session on this topic, Jim Giles, co-founder of Matter; Duncan Clark, consultant editor at Guardian environment; Jody Sugrue, creative director at National Geographic and Amanda Farnsworth, editor of visual journalism at the BBC shared some of their examples of how to make science spectacular online. Here are my top three:

The Serengeti Safari
After two years filming lions in the Serengeti, National Geographic was tasked with bringing this mass of footage to life. In this multimedia presentation, photographer Michael Nichols and videographer Nathan Williamson re-create the feast and famine of the plains; the purring, bleating, and roaring of these cats and the fragile balance of lion survival.

How to put a human on Mars
In partnership with Imperial College London, the BBC designed a concept mission to land astronauts on Mars. The virtual mission allows users to learn about different elements of space travel – from spacecraft and the journey, to landing on and exploring Mars itself.

Understanding aviation
This is one for the data geeks out there. To mark 100 years of aviation, The Guardian launched InFlight. What appears to be a video explaining the origins and developments in air travel is actually an interactive data virtualisation, with an audio overlay. This means users can delve in and explore the data display. Furthermore, it uses live data streams from FlightStats, so you can view every single commercial plane in real time.

The media often gets criticised for ‘sexing up’ science and sensationalising results. What I love about these examples is that they take the science on its own merit. They show that you don’t need to exaggerate or over hype results. With a little creativity and a format that suits the content, you can let the science do the talking.




Picture via @alicebonasio 

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