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Door opens for Italian freelancers

April 4, 2011 posted in Associations

A new group of Italian science journalists is the latest in a string of national associations all reaching out in the early months of 2011.

An association called SWIM, (“Science Writers in Milan – and beyond) is reaching out to Italian freelancers. Their colleagues in Argentina are establishing a new organization to reach out geographically from Buenos Aires to science writers in other cities across the expanse of a very big country.

Rwandan science journalists have revamped their website to gain a better footing in a country where the government is at best wary of their activities. Their Nigerian colleagues are reaching out to scientists themselves to overcome mistrust.

SWIM president Fabio Turone says, “There are some freelancers in Italy who are not formally journalists and we want to open our doors to them.

“Good science writing is more and more represented by freelancers, in a market in which newspapers tend to hire less and less, and science desks (and even staff writers specializing in science) are more and more the exception to a rule in which science is covered badly, often by general assignment reporters.”

SWIM’S applications to join both the World Federation of Science Journalists and the European Union Science Journalists’ Association stated “we are particularly interested in freelancers.” Both organizations recently welcomed SWIM into their ranks.

According to Turone, more than 250 “science reporters, editors, popularizers and writers in general – professionals involved in the communication of science and about science with a critical approach, particularly through the use of all new media,” responded to an informal online poll conducted by SWIM.

More than half of them describe themselves as pure freelancers or have “some contract” with only one publisher.

In part this is because Italy’s other science journalism association, known as UGIS (established in 1966), restricts its membership to writers who belong to that country’s State Order of Journalists, a government licensing agency which some freelancers are not entitled to belong to.

“We are a younger organization and we are putting much more emphasis than [UGIS] on all new media, including science blogs, because our constituency is composed of many freelancers or self-employed professionals,” Turone says. “We think that many writers who are not formally journalists deserve to participate in programs for continuing education and can often enrich those programs and debates within our profession.

The new organization has already been active, last year completing a basic course in health journalism and an advanced course in science and technology journalism for the Order of Journalists of Lombardy. Currently, as well as completing the national poll of science reporters, SWIM is planning:

  • a hands-on lab in biology and molecular oncology, training in the use of science literature
  • a collection of resources for science journalists
  • a repeat of its courses in health journalism and science and technology journalism

Also in the works are the collection of all databases relevant to science reporting from national and international sources, a look at data-driven science journalism and computer-assisted reporting, and the formation of a database of experts for a science media centre.

SWIM elected its board of directors a year ago. Its president, Turone, contributes articles to outlets such as the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore Sanità and the British Medical Journal. Treasurer Guido Romeo is the science editor at Wired Italy. The third board member is Daniela Ovadia, who contributes regularly to the Italian edition of Scientific American, and blogs about neuroscience on its website.

The new organization so far has about 30 signed-up members, of whom half are freelancers, two are PR professionals, plus two academics and researchers. The online survey reveals what most Italian journalists already knew – media covering science are concentrated in Milan and Rome.



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