Chinese journalists and researchers focus on scientific communication at fisheries forum

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Earth Journalism Network, Washington, DC

Collectively, the nations of the world catch around 90 million metric tons of wild fish and shellfish from the oceans every year, with China as the world’s largest producer and consumer of seafood. This is an important fact but does it tell the whole story?  Here’s another piece of information: the total weight of fish removed from the ocean each year is about equivalent to the combined weight of the entire human population of China. Which statistic is more memorable?

Communicating scientific topics in a way that clarifies what is at stake and why the issues matter can itself be a complex task that requires training and practice. With this in mind, the Earth Journalism Network organized the China Fisheries Forum in Hong Kong this month with support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.          

The three-day forum brought together seven Chinese journalists and seven researchers to learn about the demands of the two disciplines -- both focused on finding truth but with very different audiences.   By focusing on the unique needs of each audience and introducing interactive role playing exercises that included practice interviews and press conferences, the participating journalists and researchers were able to help each develop the story inside the science. The Forum was co-facilitated by Nancy Baron of COMPASS, who specializes in training researchers how to communicate their work in a concise, lively manner.

For Dr. William Cheung from the University of British Columbia’s Marine Fisheries Center, the forum provided an opportunity to contextualize the research he conducted for the recently published IPCC fifth assessment report on the ocean for a Chinese audience. “Climate change has big implications for Chinese food security from a seafood perspective,” explained Prof Cheung during his presentation on assessing the impacts of fishing and climate change on marine ecosystems. “China’s seas spread from tropical to high latitude regions and we are seeing species migration away from the tropics to the north as sea temperature changes.” 

Over the course of the forum, Dr. Cheung refined his presentation using a technique called the message box. This practice helps to frame complex topic by focusing on what matters to the audience being addressed.

For the journalists present at the forum, many of whom write about oceans and fisheries issues, the forum provided an opportunity not just to develop new stories but also to build connections with researchers in the long term. “I love the idea of bringing scientists and journalists together,” said Liu Hongqiao an environmental science reporter for the prestigious news magazine Caixin who was recently awarded a Young Journalist of the Year prize during the 2013 China Environment Press Awards. “I bet both groups benefit a lot.”

The Chinese version of "Covering the Seas: An Issue Guide for Journalists" by Paul Greenberg is now available.

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