Yahia, the editor of Nature Middle East, a Nature Publishing Group website on emerging science in the Arab world, is pushing for more proactive science journalism in his country and throughout the Arab world to hold the governments to task and flex more journalistic muscle, in contrast to the more passive approaches of the past. “Science journalism has a big role to play,” he said. “All our problems were related to Mubarak. Now, they’re related to water and food security, education, and scientific development.”
Tunisian Rafik Ouerchefani, founder of a science and technology website, Webdo.tn, was also drawn into the conflict in his country, which sparked the Arab Spring. He said he risked arrest by writing about deaths in the uprising there. Now, rather than returning to science and technology coverage, he is doing investigative reporting about how the former regime controlled the press and the Internet. “The press has its freedom now,” he said. “We need to insure its freedom will stay forever.”
The Doha conference included more than thirty sponsors from around the world. The bulk of the funding ultimately came from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a private non-profit founded in 2005 by the Emir of Qatar. Blum said that with the move to Qatar, the Foundation “continued to allow us complete independence with the program.” Other key sponsors included the Qatar Science & Technology Park; Carnegie Mellon Qatar; Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar; the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science and Eurekalert!; Johnson & Johnson; the Arab Science & Technology Foundation; and Egypt’s Research, Development and Innovation Programme. About 100 speakers and more than 200 participants, including a group involved in a WFSJ program that mentors and trains journalists from Africa and the Middle East, received travel support from the conference. In addition, many science journalism associations independently provided travel grants for some of their members to attend.
For science journalists, the challenge ahead is to maintain the momentum and spirit of the Doha gathering as the next world conference moves to the land of the midnight sun—Helsinki, Finland—in late June, 2013.
“I definitely hope that the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists benefits from the many contacts we made to bring as many people from the developing world as possible to the next conference and to create an inclusive program that covers the needs of journalists from all over the world,” said El-Awady. “I’m very optimistic that will happen.”
Editor’s Note: Russell, president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), served on the steering committee for the World Conference of Science Journalists, and CASW was a seed sponsor. Brainard received financial support from the World Federation of Science Journalists to attend the meeting. A Twitter feed of the conference can be found at #WCSJ2011. The conference website has coverage of the meeting, including stories, photos, and videos.
Correction/Clarification: The text has been altered to reflect the fact that the WCSJ in Doha was not the first held in the developing world, and that while the most recent conferences prior to Doha had been held in Western countries, earlier meetings took place in Japan, Hungary, and Brazil.