ERC: Science Journalism Initiative
Brussels, 13 April 2023
The ERC wishes to support an organisation or a consortium of organisations to set up a funding scheme that would facilitate 3-5-month stays of journalists at research institutions.
The purpose is to give the journalists opportunities to learn and work on in-depth reporting projects by immersing themselves in the research environment and interacting with scientists and scholars. Such opportunities – organised for example in collaboration with ERC host institutions and in ERC grantees’ teams and labs – should facilitate better understanding of frontier research, while respecting journalistic independence.
For this Coordination and Support Action (CSA), the indicative budget is EUR 1 500 000 from the 2023 budget and the maximum duration of the project will be 48 months. One proposal will be selected. This ERC call allows for financial support to third parties (FSTP).
Traditional media organisations around the world are in crisis and journalism has become a precarious occupation. Even though digital disruption resulted in innovative ways of reporting news and engaging audiences, including in science news, journalism frequently suffered in Europe’s small markets, divided along linguistic borders. According to most commentators, the Covid19 pandemic only aggravated an already bad situation, leading the International Federation of Journalist to call for “political and economic measures that will ensure the survival of quality media and professional journalists”.
There are no new, pan-European studies of the state of science journalism, but recent research from the UK and Switzerland, as well as the interviews carried out with experts in preparation of this call for proposals, show the worsening employment situation of science journalists, less resources and time for training and development, limited opportunities for journalists to establish networks among themselves, restricted resources and time for in-depth study and research, concentration on reporting health and environment, and reliance on corporate and university public relations material.
Generally, scientific journalism wasn’t spared in the downward trend of the media, although some experts say that the pandemic raised the profile of science journalists in newsrooms. There are also differences among EU countries when it comes to the condition of science journalism. Still, the changes in the media industry and news consumption habits, made most readers and viewers less likely to be exposed to decent quality science news. Compared to the PR staff at various research institutions or savvy scientists promoting their work, or presenters of popular YouTube channels, journalists seem to lose the battle for resources and access to impactful media platforms.
Past efforts to bring science to the public focused predominantly on science communication i.e., encouraging researchers to inform and educate citizens. Yet, it is not enough to have good information, to produce quality content and to distribute it online. To communicate research effectively and credibly one needs to engage with journalists. Their vocation it is to collect, critically assess, create and present news. Science journalists are expected to perform these activities while being independent from researchers, science institutions and funders. The independence accords them credibility in the eyes of the readers and viewers.
So, it is in the science funders’ long-term interest to keep this profession alive and to support journalists as key partners. One should also not overlook the broader political context of this action and the European Commission’s aim to build more resilient democracies across the EU. Quality journalism is an essential ingredient of democracy and to safeguard it is a collective responsibility. All institutions and bodies should contribute as much as their remits and resources allow. The ERC as a premier funding organisation in Europe shares this obligation and its engagement with this issue would send a strong signal to the journalism community and beyond.