That’s still the core. Then we have forty-five seminars a year of own, which happen twice a week, where we bring in people. For example, this year, alternative energy is crucially important, so we’re going to have to have several seminars on the new energy technologies. And of course at Harvard and MIT there are all these folks doing it—solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal. We have to keep journalists up to speed on all of that. But we do a full range of seminars—from exo-planets, to stem cells, to new nuclear plants—and try to cover all the topics, but the topics change. A few years ago, we had no nanotechnology—that’s here now. And the cognitive sciences have exploded because of the imaging techniques that are possible, so there are more seminars on cognitive science than there were ten years ago. We’re basically trying to shape ourselves to the science. That is to say, the more new stuff in an area, the more we’re going to go find it. It’s what you’d expect of reporters—they want to find out what’s the newest stuff and how does it work.

CB: And you try to bring in international fellows so that this is all global in scope?

PH:Yes. In the early days, it was American reporters, but gradually it developed to be more international or for the past seven or eight years, it’s been about 50/50—half American fellows, half from abroad. And we’d like to keep it there. It’s such a great thing to have people from different countries sitting in the same room talking about journalism. Standards really are international, and we have the same problems with them as everybody else. We need to have a world community of science journalists and the existence of the World Federation of Science Journalists really helps.

Journalism is really flourishing in the rest of the world even though it’s crashing here. They’re building up more newspapers, more readers, more literacy, and more money. We’ll be at the world federation’s meeting in June 2009, where we’ll have at least one presentation. We’ll bring in bloggers from Africa, China, India and Latin America and hear about what’s going on in their areas. For example, in China blogging is taking off very fast and is a pretty serious form of science communication. That may be very important for them because of the structure of journalism in China—there are certain topics you can’t easily do or get away with, but with blogs you may be able to. In Africa, there are many fewer people with computers, so the question is, are we going to use cell phones more than computers to convey science information? Each region has its own issues.

CB: And you were at the Unity conference in Chicago last month, shooting for a similar kind of diversity with American minorities, right?

PH: Exactly. I was there to recruit African Americans, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans. So we had a booth there and collected about a hundred names from people who were interested in the program. A lot of them were students, so they’re young, really, but we talk to them early and try to make sure that we’re open, that folks in the minority communities know we’re here.

CB: So, as the new director, you must be pretty busy?

PH: Yes. Constantly. I have to read more. I had areas of my own carved out that I cared about and worked on—global health, you know, and I can offer some of that to the fellows. But I’m definitely starting to read more and more and more. You have to be soaking it up, you have to start listening, you have to wander around campus and talk to people. It’s an education for me, or reeducation—there’s just a massive amount of stuff out there. And my job is really reporting, except that what I’m doing is finding the topics and finding the speakers, but not actually writing about them. It’s a big challenge, but I must say, I really like doing this.

 

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.