Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Arab Science Jouranalism

Last week's Nature had a series of articles focusing on science journalism. One of them addressed science journalism in the Arab world. It paints a relatively optimistic picture - with an increasing interest in science. This is positive news indeed, but I wonder if the author is more talking about technology. I don't read Arab newspapers, so I can't say much about that, but I know that science content has, if anything, gone down in Pakistani newspapers. Dawn, the leading English language newspaper in Pakistan, used to have a fantastic science writer, Azim Kidwai. I grew up reading his weekly science column. He died in the early 1990s and he was never replaced. The science section today is heavily focused on technology and software with some sprinkling of science stories (though syndicated stories are helping things a bit). Hope this will change. Here is the view from the Arab world:

When I started covering science for in Egypt about ten years ago, I did an Internet search for 'science journalism' to see if such a profession even existed. I had not heard the two words put together before, at least not in an Arab context.

Things have changed. In 2006 I helped to launch the Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA), which has since grown to 179 members as of May 2009. We are now co-bidding — with the US National Association of Science Writers — to host the 7th World Conference of Science Journalists in Cairo in 2011 (the 6th conference is being held in London next week). But as Arab science journalism gains strength, we need to ensure that its quality grows in step with its quantity.

Perhaps the more surprising thing is the number of science writers for the newspaper (though - I am curious about the output of 20 full-time science journalists for a weekly section of one newspaper alone, Al-Ahram. Any one familiar with it?):

Although the science staff of media organizations in the United States and Europe face cutbacks, a survey of ASJA members in January 2009 indicated that full-time jobs for Arab science journalists have remained relatively stable over the past five years, and freelancers report more opportunities. The Al-Ahram daily newspaper in Egypt, for example, which started a regular weekly science section in the 1950s, employs 20 full-time science journalists. The Washington Post, a US paper with a similar circulation, has eight. Al Jazeera, despite being one of the largest and most famous Arab news outlets, has no full-time science reporters, but Egypt's Al-Manara science research channel has 40 full-time staff. This promising situation is partly attributable to a heightened interest in science by Arab audiences, and a growing amount of scientific research and conferences in the region.

Rest of the article talks about some of the challenges of science reporting in the Arab world. It is an interesting read. Read the full article here.


Atif Khan said...

That's indeed a great news. Although it's a very long journey for Arab journalists to create a niche for themselves in strictly conservative environment. Lets hope good.

Don said...

Interesting news. Too bad the only one that I occasionally look at- al Jazeera- employs no science writers! Talk about a bad sample.