Who we are
AJSPI, the French association of science journalists, organizes 270 members (a majority of the active professional journalists in France) belonging to the whole spectrum of the media: print, radio, television, online. Though it has a light administrative structure, that mostly draws on volunteering, AJSPI is a very dynamic group, which organizes debates, conferences, lab visits, meetings with researchers and officials, study trips abroad etc. AJSPI also tries to develop social ties among its members and to promote networking.
AJSPI is a non-profit, based in Paris, with a board that meets every month. AJSPI does not accept non-journalists, but has created a Club with members from over 80 supporting organizations. This Club organizes press officers, heads of communication or executives from public or private institutions with an interest in communicating science and technology to the public.
A little history : an association born in the 1950’s
The Association of Science Journalists (AJSPI – Association des Journalistes Scientifiques de la Presse d’Information) was founded in March 1955, by colleagues working in daily and weekly publications. Its first president was André Labarthe, at the time editor-in-chief of the magazine "Constellation."
In the words of the announcement then published, AJSPI’s main goal is to promote an active collaboration with researchers in view of producing a "responsible and objective public information." To that aim, the board members of the Association took part in all meetings of the organizations dealing with scientific or medical information. Among these, the “Joint Commission of Public and Medical News Media” played an important role in recognizing the right of journalists to cover medical questions in the public media. That right was then denied by a number of physicians determined to fulfill this task themselves.
In 1957, the Association created the "Discovery Prize," aimed at young researchers, with the objective of fostering strong vocations for scientific careers. Some of the prize winners were Dr. Paul Laurens, the team of Professor Minkowsky, and the radioastronomy team at Nançay. Ten years later, AJSPI created its "Club," which brings together the main public relations officers of the important research agencies, universities, and industry. Regular meetings have followed in order to provide contact between journalists and press officers. Since then, the activities of AJSPI have greatly diversified.
In 1969, an important conference devoted to scientific information for the public was organized by AJSPI. Nobel laureates Jacques Monod and Alfred Kastler attended, together with circa a hundred researchers. One of the happy outcomes of this conference was the establishment of more efficient press services in a number of agencies such as the CNRS.
Our goal today: serving and defending high-quality scientific and technological information
Over the years, the Association has strived to defend freedom of information, especially when its members were victims of discriminatory measures preventing their access to information from official agencies. The Association also struggles against the tendency, too often seen in certain agencies, to restrain information seen as embarrassing in the light of current policies. Recently, AJSPI requested the intervention of the Ministry of Research as a public research institution, the BRGM (France’s leading institution in earth sciences applications), was withholding information on sensitive issues such as shale gas exploitation.
The Association supports and organizes debates and discussions on the practice and ethics of journalism, especially the problem of the circulation of scientific information. On its 40th anniversary, it organized a conference between researchers and journalists on the theme of the manipulation of information. Since then, this reflection continues on a regular basis among journalists, but also during debates among members of the "Club." In 1998, the discussion focused on the role of the PR services of the public research institutes; in January 2004, it tackled the use and limitations of press conferences. In 2005, AJSPI organized a conference entitled « Do we still need science journalists? ». 300 people attended, which was a good way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association. From 2008 to 2012, AJSPI has supported a yearly journalism award, “The Scientific Information Prize”, cofinanced by the Varenne Foundation.
A place for dialogue and socialization
Through its activities, AJSPI works hard to maintain a high level of service to its members and to remain a socialization tool. On a more or less monthly basis, the AJSPI organizes press encounters with personalities from science and from research policy. These discussions allow journalists to gain a clearer view of major scientific issues. AJSPI also organizes press trips, in France and to other countries. Through these trips our members visit, several times each year, scientists who work for cutting edge private or public laboratories, and make useful contacts. In recent years, our colleagues have been to India, Egypt, Quebec, China, South-Africa, French Guyana and Japan.
But lab visits, trips, debates, training sessions etc. are not the only regular activities of AJSPI. Thanks to the level of its membership and the quality of its representatives, our association is more and more often requested to provide opinion, advice or information in debates and studies on the relationships between science and society. And each time, AJSPI restates the key role of free and independent information.
AJSPI has signed in 2013 a partnership with the Institute of Communication Sciences of the CNRS in order to facilitate research on scientific communication and collaboration between researchers and AJSPI members on this issue. This partnership has generated many new publications and a yearly conference.
AJSPI tries to improve the relationship between scientific research and the media in order to provide the public with better information. This is why, following the publication of an article on the health risk generated by a GM plant grown with a herbicide, AJSPI issued a public statement demanding that embargoes set by scientific publications should not be manipulated. An embargo should be an early access given to all officially registered science journalists, in order to allow them to develop a critical view of an article, with the help of any scientific specialists of the field that they wish to question. AJSPI expressed regrets that these good practices have not been respected by the concerned scientific team, which introduced a non-disclosure agreement.
An aid to training
The AJSPI also provides in-service training to its members under various forms. Thus in 2001 it launched a grant for a researcher/journalist exchanges, in partnership with the Ministry of Research. This initiative allows researchers to immerse, for one week, in a journalist team, and allows journalists to participate for a similar period in laboratory research.
Besides this, since 2004, numerous training sessions are being organized with the help of various research institutes: the training is given by researchers on hot topics such as vaccines, quantum mechanics, LHC, evolution theory, statistics. Other training topics include social media use, new technologies, data handling etc.
In 2015, AJSPI organized a two day event dedicated to the new forms of journalism called “Le Grand Chantier de l’Info” (“The Great Information Workshop”), which mixed journalists, graphic designers, web developers in a friendly competition that included datamining, data visualization and webdoc production.
A large network
AJSPI belongs to a dynamic network of associations. In France, we organize events with the Association of Journalists for Nature and Environment (AJE) and the « Entretiens de l’info ». In 2008, AJSPI joined the World federation of science journalists (WFSJ), an opening toward the science journalist of the world, and we have participated in the main international science journalism events since the (ESOF, WCSJ etc.). Several of our members have been involved in a tutorial program called SjCoop, aiming at the development of science journalism in developing countries, organized by WFSJ. AJSPI has recently left EUSJA, the European Association of Science Journalists, following several disagreements. But we are still in contact with the various national associations and with EUSJA itself, and remain open to common initiatives on all issues concerning European science journalism.
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