“Specialization is fundamental for the quality of journalism”


Interview with NOEMÍ GÓMEZ
Journalist specializing in science in EFEFuturo


Noemí Gómez is an editor for the EFE Agency and has for years specialized in communicating science, linked to the EFEFuturo website, a public initiative of the press agency to convey information on science and technology directly to society. She reminds us that EFE has paid a lot of attention to information about science and the environment, and stresses that specializing in these fields is basic for the quality of the journalism involved, although it is getting increasingly difficult to do this because of the overall situation of the profession and the media. She participated in the “100XCIENCIA” forum in La Palma with the wish to interchange experience with scientists and fellow journalists.


How and when did you decide to become a specialized journalist?

After about eight years writing about politics in EFE and then three years in the communications office of the Secretariat of Estate for International Cooperation, I really wanted to do something very different. I thought of two possibilities, music and science, and finally when I returned to EFE there was a slot in science”.


A few years ago EFE-Futuro was created as a division of the EFE Agency specializing in science and technology. Why? Is there a demand for this among the general public?

“The EFE agency had always had a positive attitude to specialized information. Among its editors there have always been journalists dedicated to science and the environment (as examples). A few years ago the Agency decided to go a step further and added a format which implied direct contact with the reader. From this idea arose, in the first place, a website specializing in the environment (www.efeverde.com), and later a science and technology website (www.efefuturo.com), increasingly open to the public. Specialization is basic for the quality of journalism, although it is increasingly difficult to perform it because of the general situation of the profession and the media”.


The poll about the Social Perception of Science carried out by the FECYT every two years offers results which are increasingly encouraging about the importance for the Spanish public of specialized information. Have you noticed in your work that this demand is increasing?

I think that we are at a positive moment, at least, for science outreach. There is a growing number of better popularizers, although we could do with more women among them. Although outreach is not the same as information, it is also a good moment for science news. There is a slot and stories to tell. However journalism itself is not at its best moment. Staff, in general, has been reduced and are weighed down with work. The model is not clear, and I worry that some people still think that science is second class journalism”.


What are the ‘star topics’ in outreach?

“Astronomy, paleontology, archaeology are all much appreciated, and of course so are themes related to health”.


Is everything convertible into an interesting narrative for the general public?

Almost everything. We need to make an effort to bring things down to Earth, and this effort has to be done by the journalists as well as by the scientists. In recent years I have always found, on the science side, researchers who are keen to explain things. The key to write a good news item is to ask over and over again about the doubts one may have until you achieve understanding, and never to forget for which audience you are writing”.


The League of excellence of the Severo Ochoa centres should be continued”


- This year the first Severo Ochoa awards come to and end. What do you think of them? Do you think that they should continue along the same lines?

In a context of an economic crisis, the Severo Ochoa award has contributed to give a firm impulse to the activity of many research centres, make it possible for the researchers to go deeper into their work, and to project their centre on an International level. This is positive. In my view the “league of excellence should be continued”.


- In La Palma the “100XCIENCIA” forum has brought together science communicators and the directors of the Severo Ochoa centres. What value do you put on this meeting?

It is a valuable initiative. I think that journalists and scientists don’t know one another well enough, and this type of meetings helps to bring us together”.


- This year you have received the ASEBIO prize. What does this recognition mean to you? Is health one of the themes which receives most attention?

I am very happy for this distinction (the second prize) and I am thankful to the jury for taking note of my news item (about a vaginal microbicide based on olive oil which acts against AIDS). News items about health have the biggest audience, and this includes basic research. It is a matter which affects us very directly, and it is understandable that everyone wants more information”.


- Do you think that Spanish scientists have the social (and institutional) recognition which they merit?

The general public values scientists highly, though I think that there are cliches about scientists which are not really valid. But they need to be given more professional value by the institutions because this is the only way that young people will feel encouraged to take up science”.


- Many people are saying that we are seeing the biggest “brain drain” in history? Do you think so? What does it imply?

“Mobility is necessary for scientists, but mobility is one thing, and to leave the country because there aren’t opportunities in Spain is another. I don’t know if it is the biggest brain drain in history, but it is real, even though data are hard to come by. There is certainly a contradiction between training the best people and then letting them go. We must make an effort to retain talent, as well as to attract it, and for that the system must be robust. This would be so if science and technology were really on the political agenda”.


What can journalists do for the 'innovative ecosystem'?

“To tell the good stories”.


Coordination of interviews: Verónica Martín


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100xCIENCIA Communicating Frontier Science. La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), October 2015
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