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ABSW Event Report: New science journalism – reporting beyond the traditional media

Many thanks are due to ABSW member Yalda Javadi for producing this report

Full audio of the event is also available a Podcast will be made available soon

On Wednesday 23 September at Rivington Place, the Association of British Science Writers (@ASBW) hosted a panel debate on new science journalism – reporting beyond the traditional media. #asbwnew

Jack Serle (Reporter, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, @jackserle) moderated the panel, which included Justine Alford (News Editor, IFLScience, @LamnidaeBlue), Giles Newton (Editor, Mosaic, @GilesHNewton), Martin Robbins (Science Writer, Vice, The Guardian and The New Statesman, @mjrobbins) and Kelly Oakes (Science Editor, BuzzFeed, @kahoakes).


Justine Alford (JA) began by introducing IFLScience and its unconventional escalation from being a one person’s outlet for random science facts into one of the biggest science news organisation in the world. Now, with almost 22 million followers on Facebook, it has had to build up a business. “Larger audience means we can teach so many people about what we care about. We don’t have a target audience so we have to be broad.” She describes the tone of the writing as casual and fun, conveying science in a digestible and appetising way. “Science can sell itself. The problem is when science journalism is too formal with too much jargon and poor explanations. I have a passion for communicating science correctly and accurately.”

Giles Newton (GN) introduced Mosaic’s unique long-form science journalism model, publishing only one story per week. “Our articles are 3000 words or over. Part of the model is to resurrect those sections that typically people glaze over and print them as ‘extras’. All articles are released under a Creative Common licence, which ensures a much greater reach. We’ve had 2.5 million visits so far and have collaborated with BBC and CNN. We are also seeing an increased number of translations to other languages.”

Martin Robbins (MR) explained that he didn’t see a lot of difference with new and old journalism and his ambition is to try and make people forget that he’s a science journalist. “Rather than straight science reporting, I’m looking at other issues such as politics and culture through the prism of science. It’s time to break out of the formulas we have for science features writing. The content and writing styles out there are all the same; newcomer writers all sound like Nature or New Scientist. There are very few distinctive science writer voices out there at the moment.”

Kelly Oakes (KO) described BuzzFeed as being entirely Internet-led. She enjoys being able to use the Internet to go through news more quickly and adapt to what is current. “This meansthe deadline is always ASAP”. She explains how Buzzfeed won’t generally write about single studies; they wait until it’s been replicated or stands the test of time. “The stuff that I write falls into the ‘fluffy’ category, and those stories do almost as well as the stories about cats! Each story finds the audience they’re intended for; it doesn’t matter if that’s 500 people or 5 million people.”

Audience questions:

Q) Where do you get your stories?

JA: We have access to embargoed content from bigger journals (PLOS, Nature, Science etc.). We trawl through press releases. We also pitch our own stories from our own interests from time to time.

MR: I ignore pretty much all press releases, apart from the interesting ones (or ones that offer free cheese, ham and limoncello!). I tend to write about what is in the news at the moment. For example, I wrote an article about Jeremy Corbyn being elected as the new Labour leader, and took an evidence-based angle on it, answering questions based on what we know about polling, and whether that’s accurate.

KO: In general, nothing I write comes from press releases, unless it’s something that may get misrepresented. We also get ideas from our readers. It’s about taking everyday stuff, or questions people ask me down the pub or in the office and going into the science of that. We start from the audience, rather than the scientist!

GN: We’re not in the news business – it’s very slow news. Most of our stories are pitches from writers.

Q) What is your stance on issues-based science and addressing bad science?

MR: I started out doing a lot of that kind of stuff. I think that campaigning and debunking is important. But I would like to see a research study on whether this debunking actually helps people change or does it polarize perception.

KO: There has been a study that showed debunking can actually make people retreat further into their view, so you have to be very careful.

JA: I don’t think people should be put off because they think it wouldn’t change people’s minds. You just have to be very careful about it. It’s important to put the right information out.

GN: It depends on what stories come to us.

Q) In traditional news journalism, investigative science journalism has been strangled by the economics. In new journalism, is it any different?

KO: We have a huge investigative team at BuzzFeed – none of them exclusively on science, but if someone has a good story, they will be given the time to work on that.

JA: It’s definitely something we’re looking to move into now that we’re expanding our editorial team. I went to South Africa and reported on rhino poaching story; we’d like to do more of that.

MR: I find the whole topic of investigative journalism frustrating. I’ve given up pitching these – there are a very limited number of people willing to invest. People are just not commissioning it and that’s reflective of the standard of entries I see when I’m judging the Investigative Science Journalism awards.

GN: At Mosaic, we deliberately avoid investigative journalism. We do exploratory and explanatory journalism, but we don’t have the skills as Editors for investigative journalism. It’s been part of a practical decision.

MR to GN: Given the massive shortage of science investigative journalism, if organizations, such as the Wellcome Trust, don’t invest – where are these people going to learn these skills?

GN: That’s a very interesting point. If we were to expand, we might look into this. However, for one story a week, it’s not an area we can move into right now. Maybe now is the time to collaborate, pull together and pool resources.

Q) How is new journalism funded? Vice and IFLScience have an advertising model, but BuzzFeed do something novel - native advertising model. Can you explain this?

KO: We use sponsored content, so it looks like a BuzzFeed article but the author will be a brand or product. It gets people to read a genuinely interesting and engaging article rather than to popping adverts all over the place.

JA: IFLScience relies on adverts, which means we have to entice people to the website. This means we get accused of clickbait a lot, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging people to read science. We’re quite lucky to have a readership so we don’t need the more invasive ads. Elise Andrew is against native / embedded adverts; she doesn’t want people to think that we’ve written an article that we actually haven’t.

GN: The rise of adblockers will be an interesting factor to think about.

MR: I think adblockers will mean people will just choose the embedded advertising option – people are quite sneaky with getting their ads in.

Q) How do you deal with scientists when most are afraid of journalists and think you might misinterpret their study?

MR: That is an increasing problem I have been having. The traditional thing to do is to go to the scientist and get the explanation from them, but you can have a problem with accessing them.

JA: We do reach out to scientists a lot. We have some that like to talk, and some that don’t.

KO: I have found scientists quite receptive, because they know the reach we have. I generally go straight to the scientist rather than the press offices if I can help it.

Q) Do you get a different response when you say you’re from Vice or BuzzFeed compared with the Guardian?

MR: It’s difficult to do a direct comparison, because the articles I write for the Guardian are different to the articles I write for Vice. I have found people are quite nervous if they know it’s going in Vice, but I try to be nice and give them reassurance.

JA: I’m not aware of any scientists refusing to speak to us because of who we are.

KO: People are generally quite happy to speak to us, because they know the reach.

GN: I think saying we’re backed by the Wellcome Trust; it can open some doors.

Q) How do you write with flair in science when science is so exact?

GN: My advice is to write relentlessly and your voice will come.

KO: Write and publish – try and find a platform to publish your work. Find your own voice and don’t try and copy everyone else.

JA: Write what you’re passionate about, because if you’re passionate about something – that will be conveyed.

Q) Are freelancers better for long-form (traditional) journalism, while in-house writers for more new media?

KO: That is accurate for BuzzFeed.

JA: We use in-house writers, but sometimes we use freelancers. If a story breaks out in US time, we hire a US freelancer to write about it so it’s ready for UK time.

GN: Our editors have written a couple of stories in-house, but most are freelancers. We try to have a diverse range of writers: travel writers and food writers. We want to expand our scope.

Q) I love reading Mosaic, in particular, the Breaking Bad News article, as well as the extras. How deeply are the writers involved in the extras? Also, there is a video attached to that story – I don’t see video that often; is there is a reason you don’t use videos more often?

GN: That story was actually written by one of our in-house editors. The writer will normally suggest the extras. In that article we also included a 30-minute film. This took a lot of time and resources, so now we just do them every now and again.

JA: We used to have a YouTube channel, but then I put a stop to that with my scathing article about how the Discovery Channel lies to people. We are however moving more towards digital. We’re going to start doing animation and then live videos, which we’re really excited about.

KO: At Buzzfeed, there is something called BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. We have a huge video team.

MR: At The Guardian they tried sticking a camera in front of the science people – including me – and I just looked miserable! And I have a horrible voice! I think multimedia is great – but not for me!

Q) Rounding up, is the quality of news going to increase or decrease in the coming years?

MR: It’s going to get better in some sections, because of things like Mosaic, Buzzfeed and IFL science coming into more ambitious projects. But then you have Daily Mail on 250 million hits a month – so it can also spread out in a big and unhelpful way.

JA: Science communication has massively exploded in the last couple of years. It’s hard to say what makes a good website from one that will crash. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

KO: I’m going to stay on fence and say it will be different. One thing that’s happening at BuzzFeed is moving from being a content provider to being a content distributor, finding and going to people where they are.

GN: It will be interesting to see which traditional newspapers and news platforms would have disappeared and which of the new generation will become the CNN of now? Will BuzzFeed be the dominant platform?



ABSW panel debate on “new science journalism” - reporting beyond the traditional media

Save the date...
ABSW panel debate on “new science journalism” - reporting beyond the traditional media
When: Wednesday 23 September 18:30 for 18:45 start
Where: Rivington Place, off Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3BA
On Wednesday 23 September, the Association of British Science Writers is hosting a panel debate in Rivington Place, off Rivington Street, London, on the rise of non-traditional newsrooms.
It’s your chance to discuss the value, place and impact of news organisations like BuzzFeed and Vice with the journalists themselves.
Kelly Oakes, BuzzFeed
Giles Newton, Mosaic
Justine Alford, IFLScience
Martin Robbins, Vice
As with all our evening events, this is completely free and we’re even offering to buy the first round in a local pub to prolong the discussion.
Please arrive 18:30 for 18:45 start
You can register to attend here: 
The event is primarily for ABSW members but do feel free to bring friends and colleagues, although we would appreciate if they could register in order to keep an eye on numbers.
Thanks are due to Board Member Beki Hill for organising this event.

ABSW Event: In conversation with Professor Sir Mark Walport

Latest news:   Read about it in tweets - Storify now published

The Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) and Science Museum Lates present:

In conversation with Professor Sir Mark Walport 

19.00- 20.00, Wednesday 29 October, Science Museum (FREE) 
In his first 18 months as government chief scientific advisor, Professor Sir Mark Walport has faced his share of controversial science topics. Channel 4 science editor Tom Clarke asks him to reflect on his time on the job so far and asks where he sees science advice going as the government tries to recover from the recession.
From badger culling to the potential take-over of Astra Zeneca, Sir Mark has advised the government on numerous scientific issues. He will discuss the highlights and the challenges of his job to date, look at what he could have done differently and where there are improvements to be made.
In a brief lecture and conversation with Tom Clarke, Sir Mark will tackle the big questions of science policy and research funding in a post-recession government.
He will consider how science advice can help keep politicians’ decisions in the public eye, rather than in the dark corridors of Whitehall, how and when to use evidence-based policymaking and whether the voices of scientific advisors are heard across government.
This will be follows by a Q&A session from the audience, where you will get the chance to put your own burning questions to Sir Mark.
The event will be introduced and chaired by journalist and broadcaster Roger Highfield, who is Director of External Affairs at the National Museum of Science and Industry.
Run by the ABSW and Science Museum Lates, it's a great chance to come along and ask Mark Walport, the government's chief scientific advisor some burning questions, and you can spend the rest of the evening enjoying the other events on offer
Bookings now open


ABSW Panel Debate on Investigative Journalism - live blog

Video to follow...


Here's some of the follow-up we've found on Twitter at #abswij

and indeed it seems that the follow up was well deserved...

And do we now have a new member?

A point raised by Josh Howgego that is echoed in many places... the curse of the unpaid internship...

Here's a point well made...

And this is a very interesting point (something to follow up on?)

And of course, Rory's bagels... is this investigative tech/sci journalism?

Finally of course some big announcements about science-based investigative journalism...

Have you got other thoughts on this event? Let us know here: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ABSW Panel Debate on Investigative Journalism

The live blog for this event will kick off at 6:45pm Wednesday 5th March.

The Association of British Science Writers and City University present:

Panel Debate on Investigative Journalism

Wednesday 5 March, 7pm

City University, London

What place does investigative journalism have in today’s newsrooms? Is it in danger of becoming something only specialist publications can afford? And how can science writers use investigative reporting to their advantage?

Join a panel of journalists, editors and commentators as they ask how reporters can deliver hard-hitting investigative stories when faced with increasingly pressing time constraints, fewer resources and legal issues.

This event marks the launch of the ABSW’s investigative fellowships, which will provide financial support for a journalist experienced in investigative journalism to carry out a detailed investigation. The ABSW hopes this will be an annual award, but this will be reviewed after the first round. See ABSW website for more information.


Deborah Cohen – Investigations editor, British Medical Journal

Steve Connor – Science editor, The Independent, and winner of 2012 ABSW investigative journalism award

Connie St Louis - Director, City University Science Journalism MA, BBC broadcast journalist and former ABSW president

Other panellists TBC


Ehsan Masood - Editor, Research Fortnight

Event details

Date: Wednesday 5 March 2014

Time: 6.30pm for 7.00pm start

Venue: City University London,

The event is free, but registration is essential.


AGM Set for Thursday 27 March 2014

The date of the ABSW AGM will be Thursday 27th March 2014.   Of course further reminders and details will follow but for those who like to forward plan then you can put this date in the diary.   It will be an evening meeting in London, venue tbc.   The AGM is a key meeting at which the members of the Board are elected and the President reports on the year's activities along with presentation of the accounts and a report from the ABSW auditors.   For more on the governance of the ABSW see the newly posted Memorandum, Articles and Standing Orders.  

Biosciences for Farming in Africa invite you to an evening social in London


Biosciences for Farming in Africa invite you to meet some of Africa's leading journalists in London
During mid-May, 20 of Africa's leading journalists with an interest in science will be visiting the UK as guests of Biosciences for Farming in Africa ( On Wednesday 15 after a tour of the BBC, we will be holding an informal networking meeting for ABSW members upstairs at The Captain's Cabin you are most welcome to attend (see below for full details). This will be a unique opportunity to make contacts, share experiences and learn about the exciting world of journalism in Africa which is being revolutionised by the widespread use of smart phones, along with continuing growth in traditional radio and print media.
Date: Wednesday 15 May 2013
Time: 18:00 onwards
Venue: The Captains Cabin (upstairs room exclusively booked for this event), 4-7 Norris St  London, London, SW1Y 4RJ
Buffet and drinks provided courtesy of Biosciences for Farming in Africa 
If you can join us for the event please let us know via this very short form: 
There is no need to reply if you are unable to attend.
NB:  This event has kindly been offered as an opportunity for ABSW members to meet their African colleagues by Richard Hayhurst, Director of Communications for Biosciences for Farming in Africa.    The event is funded by Biosciences for Farming in Africa.  

Event: Tipping Points: public perception and policy - POSTPONED



***EVENT POSTPONED - New event date will be published as soon as possible***



The Association of British Science Writers and Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) present

Tipping Points: public perception and policy


When it comes to the consequences of climate change, few are more dramatic than tipping points, where seemingly small shifts trigger larger, often irreversible, changes.


Scientists from many disciplines have been researching issues around sea level rises, ice melt and tipping points. But how does, and how should, their research influence policy?

The Association of British Science Writers and Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) are bringing together a panel, including broadcasters, researchers and policymakers to discuss this question.

There will also be a chance before the event to have a private view of the Royal Geographical Society’s Collections, with a showcase of highlights from the Society’s unique Collections, including examples of how they are used by scientists today to support contemporary research.

The event is free, but registration is essential: please register here


Event details:


Venue - Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR. (Entrance on Kensington Gore) 


Event schedule:

5:30 – Private showcase of the RGS-IBG collections (limited space – priority given to speakers and ABSW members)

6:00 – Rest of event audience arrive

6:30 – Panel event start

8:00 – Event finish. The ABSW invite you to post-event drinks at the Queen’s Arms (30 Queen's Gate Mews, London, SW7 5QL)




Event: Pecha Kucha Night with City University, London - Tuesday, 12th March, 7pm


The Association of British Science Writers and The Network of Energy Centres for Doctoral Training present:

Pecha Kucha Night with City University, London

Tuesday 12th March, 7pm

20 images X 20 seconds

Come and listen to six practicing scientists and engineers—who have no control over how long they take on each of their slides—talk about their work in all areas of energy research.

Pecha Kucha events are informal evenings where presenters describe their work using only 20 images, each for only 20 seconds.

There will be plenty of time for questions, as well as drinks and conversation in the local pub. (We’ll even buy you a pint!)



• Conaill Soraghan, University of Strathclyde, will tell us why wind turbines could look very different offshore

• Philippa Usher, University of Leeds, will talk about growing biofuel using algae

• Wasim Bhatti, Loughborough University, will discuss integration of hydrogen fuel cells into unmanned aerial vehicles and their future

• Tom Demetriades, University of Nottingham, will speak about transport for Carbon Capture and Storage

• Mike Fell, University College London, discussing children’s role in home energy use

 Ruth Bush, University of Leeds, UK District heating - What are we waiting for?


Event details:

Date:     Tuesday 12th March 2013 
Time:    6:45pm for 7:00pm start
Venue:  Room DLG03, Social Sciences Building, City University, London (five minutes walk   from Angel Tube Station)

The event is free, but registration is essential.  Please register your interest using the following form:-


Event: ‘The Invisible Revealing of the Dangerously Beautiful’ - Symposium at the AAAS Annual Meeting, Boston - 17th Feb'13

Limited Student Bursaries available

In celebration of the Bragg centenary, Diamond Light Source - the UK's national sychrotron - have arranged a symposium at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston on the 17th February.

The Invisible Revealing of the Dangerously Beautiful’ will explore the impact of Bragg’s law and advances in X-ray science over the past century.

There will be a plethora of other events and lectures taking place on the day; and this is an opportunity to be involved with one of the most exciting science events of the year.

For those of you with students who may be interested, we have a limited number of student bursaries available for the event. The bursary covers the cost of attendance at the AAAS for the 17th February, and the day pass entitles holders to enter other events taking place on that day within the conference. For more information, please visit

If you or your students are interested in attending then please do get in touch.

 Warm wishes,

 Mary Cruse, Press and PR Officer
 (44)1235 778548
 Diamond Light Source
 Diamond House
 Harwell Science & Innovation Campus
 Didcot, Oxon

 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 Tel: + 44 (0) 1235 778548

Event: Communicate 2012: Breaking Boundaries: The Next Ten Years for People and Nature, 24/25th Oct

Communicate 2012 – Breaking Boundaries: The Next Ten Years for People and Nature

24/25 October 2012

Brunel’s Old Station, Central Bristol

Communicate is the UK’s leading conference for environmental communicators, bringing together a blend of NGOs, media professionals, green business leaders, academics and policy makers. With over 100 different organisations represented each year, Communicate gives delegates the opportunity to stay informed on the crucial current debates in the sector, share best practice, hear from inspirational speakers, and get direct feedback on their own communication campaigns.

Join us for our tenth anniversary as we break the boundaries of environmental communication – crossing the barriers to engagement; challenging the boundaries between sectors; overcoming the gap between awareness and action – and look ahead to the next ten years for people and nature.

• Keynote speeches from David Shukman, BBC Science Editor, broadcaster and marine biologist Monty Halls, and Wendy Darke, recently appointed Head of the BBC Natural History Unit.
• The Carnegie Challenge Debate: Head versus Heart – Changing Behaviour or Influencing Core Values – our expert panel debate different approaches to environmental communication, with panellists, John Thøgersen, Theresa Marteau, Ed Gillespie and Richard Hawkins.
• The Next Ten Years for People and Nature – inspirational visions of the future and how to achieve them, with speakers Chris Baines, Rob Hopkins and Keri Facer.
• Engaging audiences – from the next generation to hard to reach groups. Breaking down the barriers to engagement with speakers including Stephen Moss and Judy Ling Wong
• A chance to influence government strategy through Defra’s People Engagement Group – where should our priorities lie?
• The Psychology of Partnership – examining the challenges and processes of partnership, including working productively with business and communicating The Wettest Drought on Record
• The Delegate Showcase – share your own innovative campaign with Communicate delegates and hear practical case studies from other leading communicators.

Register now to secure your place at this annual event.

We look forward to welcoming you to Bristol in October.

For further details visit

Ben Connor
Bristol Natural History Consortium
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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