An accessible scientific knowledge for society at large is a key ingredient to develop a healthy democracy, and informative science journalism is pivotal to this end. However, scientists and journalists do not always manage to deal with each other in a trustful and productive manner.
Journalists on one hand often find themselves in getting lost in scientific language with full of jargons, uncertainty and ‘it depends’ narrative in the process of journalistic research. As a consequence, media end up turning themselves toward the voices that take a strong stance to the issue, and often fail to portrait the scientific reality in a meaningful way.
Scientists on the other hand see media coverage not presenting not only the scientific evidences and facts in an accurate way but the variety of scientific disciplines and how each can lead to varied perspectives. As a consequence, they lose trust in journalists and media. In many research organisations, communication training for scientists often starts with brushing up their practical skills, such as how to write a pitch, be on camera, and counter journalist’s questions on radio shows. This has proven ineffective in many cases along the way once scientists face the challenge of journalists not portraying the issue as they see it.
We need more scientists who understand the value in addressing their scientific knowledge with the society, and think how they can help journalists understand and report with the scientific facts, data and evidences better. In this light, the Lookout Station, a science-media initiative by the European Forest Institute developed ‘Handbook for Scientists: Driving Scientific Research into Journalistic Reporting on Forests, Environment and Climate Change’.
Elisabetta Tola, the author of the book states:
“Producing innovative and engaging narratives of complex issues, such as climate change, require a long exchange and confrontation between scientists and journalists. In the handbook we provide examples and showcases in a hope to inspire scientists to dedicate time and effort to communicate better with journalists, so that they can write about the issue with a balanced, broader perspectives. We also give tools and suggestions on how to better deal with the media to make the exchange more effective. I hope this handbook will enable more researchers to try and communicate more and more with committed journalists, in order to contribute to share knowledge and lead them to take action to improve and/or counter the issue.”
The handbook can be accessed free-of-charge in a PDF format via this link.
After completing an MSc in Agricultural sciences at the University of Padova and PhD in Microbiology at University College Cork, supported by a Marie Curie grant in Biotechnology, Elisabetta turned to journalism and completed a Master in Science communication at Sissa, the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste.
In 2005 she founded the Italian science communication agency formicablu, specialized in multimedia and digital production. More recently she launched datajournalism.it, a laboratory for data driven stories and tools.
As a freelance she collaborates with different national and international magazines and is currently a regular contributor for the datajournalism section of AGI, Agenzia giornalistica Italia. She developed and co-authored the international crossmedial and investigative projects Seedversity.org and Seedcontrol.eu on global agro-ecology and seed market, supported by the Innovation and Development Reporting grants of the European Journalism Centre and published on an array of international newspapers and magazines, and Hearing voices, a cross-border investigation on forensic speech science supported by Journalismfund.
She is a radio presenter at the Italian national public radio, RAI Radio 3, for the daily program Radio3scienza as well as an author of podcast series for the same channel.
Elisabetta is a media trainer on digital and data journalism as well as verification of user generated contents. She was media trainer for Italy with the Google News Lab between 2015-17 and for the Digital lab @FIEG, the main Italian publishers association, in 2018. She has been lecturing on digital media at different journalism schools for the past 10 years.
She also acts as a consultant and senior communication officer for dissemination and outreach strategies within EU funded research projects as well as speaker and discussant at national and international public events.
Recently Elisabetta is collaborating as a mentor and a consultant with the European Forest Institute to develop science-media programmes for the Lookout Station.