What is the SMCC?

Science has never been more pervasive in everyday life, yet seldom have so many people felt so unconnected to it. Meanwhile structural changes in the mass media mean there are fewer and fewer specialized medical and science journalists. The burden is falling instead on general assignment reporters, who mostly lack the expertise to present science in an engaging fashion.

Nor is the Internet the answer. Although easily accessible, much online information about science is either too complex, too one-dimensional or too biased to be helpful. Surveys by the U.S. National Science Foundation have shown that only one in five people actively seek out science information; many more will listen or read when it’s presented in the mass media.

In 2008, a small group of concerned journalists, researchers and public supporters of science decided the way to tackle this problem was primarily by providing help to general assignment reporters. Our proposed remedy is the Science Media Centre of Canada, patterned after centres already operating successfully in the U.K. and Australia.

The Science Media Centre of Canada will help journalists cover stories in which science plays an important part. This means everything from stories where science is the story – such as the discovery of a new Earth-like planet – to stories where science provides the crucial factual underpinning – such as citizen opposition to cellphone towers. The word “science” encompasses the natural, social and biomedical sciences and also includes stories dealing with technology, engineering, environment and some aspects of the humanities.

Funded by charter members from the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, the Centre has mandated that no more than 10% of its funding comes from any single source. This ensures objectivity and independence. Approximately 20 respected Canadian researchers comprise our Research Advisory Panel, ensuring scientific accuracy. Our Editorial Advisory Committee, made up of six veteran Canadian journalists, ensures objectivity and journalistic integrity.

The Goal: Increased public engagement with science issues through media coverage of science that is more informed, more accurate and more incisive. Scientists, journalists, policy makers and the public will benefit.

The SMCC will give priority to helping journalists who don’t have the luxury of specializing in covering science, the usually overworked and too often underappreciated General Assignment reporters. Yet the Centre also intends to provide a range of services that will prove useful to feature writers, editors, producers and even journalists specializing in science.

Science media centres exist already in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Although the SMCC plans to co-operate energetically with them, it will not be a clone. It will be indisputably Canadian providing services in French and English and responding to regional concerns while taking a pan-Canadian approach to identifying and distributing the best sources of expertise.

In 2008, Halifax Global Management Consultants carried out an extensive consultation with more than 400 stakeholders across Canada on the Centre’s behalf. There was enthusiastic support for these program elements. The full study is available here.

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