A prize to write home about

May 10, 2011
Ecosystems and Human Health
Journalists from around the world competed to attend the International Ecohealth Forum (IEF 2008) in Mérida, México. Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), in collaboration with the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), sponsored the competition.

The eight winning journalists shared the message of IEF 2008 with audiences all over the world, and the Forum provided an exciting opportunity, especially for winners from developing countries.

The Forum offered journalists the chance to put a local lens on international stories.

"You have to make a local connection if you want to talk about big issues like global warming," said Jean-Marc Fleury, executive director of WFSJ. The broad international spectrum of issues discussed at the Forum and the attendance of scientists from all over the world enabled journalists to find that local focus.

"Because IDRC supports so many scientists, an African journalist who makes it to the conference, for instance, will be able to interview a scientist from his own country," Fleury said. Journalists could then place scientists’ research in the broader international context provided by the Forum.

Human health is the topic most frequently covered by science journalists. The Forum was particularly interesting for journalists because ecohealth addresses the connection between human health and large, abstract issues like global warming.

"Health issues are more directly perceived by people [than] the global climate, [about which] they don’t care immediately because they cannot see [the impact]," Fleury said.

The competition built on the extensive international reach of the WFSJ to advance IDRC’s mission of supporting developing countries.

"IDRC was fantastic," Fleury said. "We wish there would be more of these opportunities." Applicants included 85 journalists from 42 different countries, including 30 developing countries. An independent jury composed of three international experts in journalism volunteered their time to evaluate the entries.

The following journalists attended IEF 2008 as winners of this competition:

  • Bernardo Esteves (Brazil)
  • Christophe Mvondo (Cameroon)
  • Dominique Forget (Canada)
  • Eliza Barclay (USA)
  • Diodora Bucur (Mexico)
  • Rossel Yakary Prado Romero (Venezuela)
  • Chatterjee Patralekha (India)
  • Laura Guachalla (Bolivia)

Materials written by the winning journalists include online blog entries, submissions by Mvondo to the daily newspaper La Nouvelle Expression in Cameroun, online articles by Esteves for the magazine Ciencia in Brazil, an op-ed by Chatterjee for the Deccan Chronicle in India, and an article by Forget published in the Canadian magazine Chatelaine.

The journalists were able to bring new ideas and approaches from the Forum home to their communities. In her op-ed piece about the current swine flu threat, Chatterjee states, "the Mérida meeting drew attention to the mixing bowl of environmental changes and human activity that was leading to new diseases and reviving many old ones across the globe. Such discussions need to happen here [in India] as well."

Science journalism is becoming increasingly important as the public is "bombarded with all kinds of information," Fleury said. "Science journalists are experts at making the best information available in a way that the public can understand it."

For more information on the winners of this competition and on the work of the WFSJ, please visit the organization’s website. Other articles written by journalists at IEF 2008 can be found in this website.

Jean-Marc Fleury
Executive Director
World Federation of Science Journalists