Bachelor of Science students will have the unique opportunity to study journalism courses to strengthen their scientific communication skills
Concordia University is launching Canada’s first Science Journalism minor in the fall semester. The program will teach the skills required to effectively craft science-related stories for the public eye.
“For me, it’s the most important topic,” said David Secko, professor and chair of the Department of Journalism at Concordia, in an interview with The Concordian. “It’s the topic that connects everything together; the impact science has is going to impact the economy, it’s going to impact our health and wellbeing, it’s going to force us to deal with topics that are very complex. So this is the perfect training opportunity to become very good and very precise at your communication.”
The minor will be available to students in Bachelor of Science (BSc) programs, who will need to complete 24 credits in the Department of Journalism. The courses offered range from reporting and multimedia to speciality courses, exposing students from a science background to the more esoteric elements of journalism.
“Since we’re targeting students in science degrees, this is also really about their careers,” said Secko. “The data out there is very clear that if you communicate better in the world, you’re going to have better prospects for your jobs. Not only that, but you’re also going to have a higher level of potential impact on the things that you care about.”
Concordia’s Science and Journalism department chairs first began working on the program in 2017, according to Secko. Today, the minor aims to allow BSc students to be able to report on scientific topics in an accurate yet compelling way. The program comes at a time when science journalism is growing rapidly into a more quotidian topic in the general public.
“We’re seeing a huge growth in the field of science communication over the last 10 years,” said Secko. “We also find people that I deeply respect, like the Haydens, talking about science journalism itself going through a renaissance.”
The number of science journalism stories published has skyrocketed in the past year. COVID-19 coverage is reported daily, as it remains the predominant issue throughout the world. The influx of these stories can inevitably lead to contradicting information — though some journalists, like Thomas and Erika Check Hayden mentioned above, defend that science journalists are producing better journalism than ever before.
“It actually comes at a weirdly perfect time for this to be launched,” said Cristina Sanza, digital journalism instructor and Projected Futures coordinator. “More than ever, regular journalists who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise dealt with scientific topics are now being forced to do so. People are now realizing why it’s so critical that this type of reporting needs to be done with utmost care and accuracy.”
Sanza works on other science journalism projects at Concordia, notably the Projected Futures summer school. This summer will be the fourth year of Projected Futures, wherein graduate students will experiment with science journalism in ways that will ultimately encourage them to reconsider how science is communicated in society.
“Projected Futures is one of the other science journalism-oriented initiatives that has been going on,” said Sanza. “It’s almost like the precursor to this minor, showing that the department has been involved and interested in this kind of stuff for quite a while.”
The Concordia Science Journalism Project (CSJP) is another related initiative within the department, having begun in 2008. The project’s initial aim was to establish a platform for science journalism research and pedagogy in the Department of Journalism. Secko is currently leading the project, working to further empower the communication of science through journalistic methods.
“One thing that’s distinguishing the department at Concordia is that we’re not necessarily sitting still — not that departments should, but universities can get old,” said Secko. “The push here is that we’re really asking, ‘Where does science journalism need to go?’ And by getting students in BSc involved in this conversation, I predict good things to come.”
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