“If science is narrated well, it can be exciting for all types of audiences”


Interview with PABLO JÁUREGUI
Science journalist of El Mundo Newspaper


Pablo Jáuregui has been one of the pioneers of science journalism in Spain. He has been writing for many years about science in one of the most widely read media in Spanish, El Mundo. He praises the work done by science bloggers, but insists that there is a difference between their work and that of the journalists. For him they are complementary but not substitutes. In “100XCIENCIA” he will be able to share this view with science and specialized communicators. This will take place in La Palma from 7th to 9th October.


El Mundo has been one of the Spanish media which has placed emphasis on science information for decades. Is science really interesting? If so, why?

Science is, of course, really interesting, though some people have not yet caught on to this. The proof is that reports on science in newspapers such as El Mundo have had great success with the public, which can be shown nowadays by means of measurements of the items which have the greatest audience in the digital editions. Almost every day there are items on science, technology, health and the environment among the “top 20” with most readers in the webs of the main newspapers. This has finally given the lie to those who have believed in the stereotyped idea that “science does not interest people” in Spain. Science, narrated in a language which is not difficult, and presented attractively interests anyone with the slightest curiosity about the world which surrounds us. Human beings are, by nature, animals with a thirst for knowledge because, as Carl Sagan said, “our survival depends on it”. If science is told well it can be exciting for all public audiences, and fortunately we are showing this more and more every day in the Spanish media”


- What are the subjects which arouse most interest in this field?

“On the one hand people find most interesting those themes which directly affect their daily lives: health, technological advances, and environmental problems. But at the same time the public shows great interest in sciences which are apparently much further from daily life, but help us to answer the big questions of all time: Where de we come from? How did the Universe originate? How did our species originate? Are we alone or is there life out there in the universe? For these reasons astrophysics, paleontology, and anthropology are also fascinating.


- For years, now, you not only coordinate the science section in the printed newspaper, but you have also taken charge of the presentation of these themes on the web. Are these media so different? How have you managed to take this leap?

The essence of journalism does not change when we go from paper to the web; what changes are the Tools and the languages which we can use to tell stories on internet. In science journalism has opened the door to a wonderful set of opportunities to add to our texts all the tools of the multimedia universe: video, audio, chats with experts, photos of debates with readers, interactive graphics and so on. I am still deeply committed to the classical method of reading the newspaper over one’s morning coffee, but at the same time I get a real boost (both as a professional and as a user) from the new narratives which the digital world has opened up.

For that reason I was always very insistent that the science section of El Mundo be integrated as soon as possible into the website elmundo.es. this gave us a major additional work load, because it is not at all easy to work in the continuous updating of the web and in the classical editing of the newspaper, but I have never been at all sorry about this. On the contrary for our section the popularity of our subjects on the web has been the key to our consolidation, and has in practice reinforced our presence in the newspaper, in spite of the severe economic crisis we have experienced in these recent years”


- The “100xCIENCIA” forum is a pioneering encounter where the Severo Ochoa centres of excellence and scientific journalists can share ideas and interests for a few days. What do you think about this?

It seems to me a great idea, a splendid opportunity for top scientists and science journalists to interchange ideas and opinions. Bearing in mind the ambivalent attitude which scientists have traditionally shown towards the media, this type of meetings seems to me to be fundamental to put a final end to this lack of confidence. I always say that all of us, scientists and journalists, are in the same boat because we are both interested to see that science can have increasing importance in society. So we need to join forces, and a forum such as “100Xciencia” is an ideal opportunity to make an advance in this direction. So I congratulate the organizers, and feel honoured for having been invited to participate.


It would be a serious error to eliminate the Severo Ochoa Awards for Excellence


- We are living in an epoch in which even the TV is interested in science (an example of this is your participation in the new programme by Xavier Sardà ADN Max). Does this mark a change of tendencies?

Of course, and we should be very happy about it! Finally in Spain the directors of the television, the most important medium of mass communication, have realized the popular impact of science on society. I think that we in the newspapers have made a major contribution to this, and above all our digital editions, which as I said earlier have shown in a unequivocal manner that science is a success with our readers. I think that there is still a long way to go because the presence of science in the news sections of television is still very limited but programmes suchas “Orbita Laika” on Channel 2, and now ADN Max on Discovery, a project on which I set great store. These are very positive signs, that as (Bob) Dylan sang “ the times they are a-changin’ (for the better).


- The non-specialist media (except for the major national dailies) do not pay specific attention to scientific matters, while we can see the growth of the audience for the bigger websites of blogs in this field. Have the journalists and the news media companies not been able to recognize these needs in their readers? Are these media now their competition?

It is clear that for a long time the directors of the majority of the media did not realize either the importance or the popularity of science news, but as I commented before there is plenty of evidence that this situation is changing. More and more of the media, including the regional and local press, are taking science more seriously. As for the blogs, many of them do really great work, but in my opinion they are not, in general, doing a job of journalism (reporting current notices, organized according to their information value) but are popularizing (spreading specialized knowledge, often unrelated to current news) If the media choose quality science journalism, and I think that they are doing just that, increasingly often, and increasingly well, we have a great future ahead of us. The bloggers will also have their space, and this is excellent. But I must insist that what they do is not really journalism, but a form of outreach which complements, but cannot (and should not) substitute the work of journalism.


- We are in one of the hardest economic periods for science in Spain. This has obliged us to reflect on national science policy. What would be your choice so that the system of R+D+I takes off?

 “If we want to be a progressive country, rather than to fall into a spiral of increasing material and intellectual poverty, the only way forward is to take as examples the countries which lead in science and innovation. We need governments that make I+D+I a national priority, well above disputes between the parties, with a level of state investment approaching that of the leading countries of the EU rather than that of the stragglers. And we also need to promote and give incentives to a culture of innovation among private companies, prepared to take risks, and of course for a university system which is modernized, which puts an end once and for all with its old fashioned inbreeding, favours excellence, and has closer links with industrial innovation”


- This year the first edition of the Severo Ochoa excellence awards comes to an end. How do you see this initiative? Do you think that the policy should continue?

Without a doubt the Severo Ochoa scheme has been a great initiative in the correct direction to provide incentives and to consolidate the excellence of the best Spanish research centres. To eliminate it would be a grave error, and another negative sign of the lack of backing for science from our government, which is almost always thinking in terms of the number of votes at the next election, and not in terms of the medium term and long term future, which is needed in science. But our future depends on this, because our prosperity will depend directly on our capacity to discover and to innovate”.


Coordination of interviews: Verónica Martín



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