18|03|24: A last chance for EUSJA

Two years ago I was elected Honorary Secretary of the European Union of Science Journalists‘ Associations (EUSJA). It was an honour to serve in this function, a pleasure it was not. Together with my colleagues on the board Jens Degget, Marina Hužvárová and Antonio Calvo Roy, and with auditor Kaiainders Sempler, we were faced with the most serious threat to the union so far. My contribution to ease and hopefully solve this challenge was to draft and negotiate the new constitution which was passed at the General Assembly in Madrid on 24 March 2018. On the web page of the Austrian association I explained the essentials of the new constitution in German. On my departure from the board I left the delegates the following farewell note.  

Billy Wilder recommended fellow filmmakers to “start with a bang. Then slowly increase intensity”. I am going to paraphrase him by saying, “I am starting on a gloomy note. And then it will get more depressing.”

It was two years ago that I took up the position as Honorary Secretary of EUSJA. I had canvassed on a clear platform of re-writing the constitution. The assembly in the past years had recognized this necessity in order to reflect the changes the organisation in particular and the media in general have undergone in the past decade.

I leave you with a new constitution, which I hope accomplishes the goals set. The constitution is not for eternity. No constitution is. As important as the final draft is, the discussion that leads to that is just as relevant. I therefore thank all who contributed to this discussion and thus the constitution.

I am sorry to report though that I and we as a board have not succeeded in doing much more in developing and promoting EUSJA and European science journalism. We as a board have been occupied with clearing skeletons out of the closets. Not enough praise can go to Jens and Kaianders for sorting out the grave mistakes and financial liabilities of the past. Being occupied with these problems prevented us discussing central challenges for science journalism and EUSJA. In the light of these challenges it is extremely remarkable what Jens has accomplished with the Copenhagen conference 2017 and all other achievements mentioned in his report.

Further obstructions were added by the difficult negotiations with the break-away associations. While the principal demand for a re-organisation of EUSJA is understood and fair, the language of the discussion has been very challenging. In times of fervent re-nationalisation globally and in Europe, it is remarkably daft to question the necessity of a continental association committed to rationality and enlightenment. To put it very bluntly: it was ridiculous enough that the British association ceased its membership under questionable circumstances and with unclear authorization of the delegate in 2014. It would be an unforgivable shame if the British association now acted in line with the current anti-European scepticism in the UK, contradicting the positions of the overwhelming majority of scientists, science journalists and science communicators in the UK.

This, of course, also applies to the other associations who have ceased their membership. It is especially pathetic that associations from richer countries withdraw in times of trouble and leave it to smaller associations with fewer resources in terms of funding, members and administration to sort the problems out. To leave no room for interpretation: Yes, the problems of the past have to be tackled and the board of the past two years has done so. And no, the problems of the past will not be solved by walking away.

On an emotional note: this is Europe. We handle problems by analysing and discussing them. We respect national sentiments but we believe in the greater good of supranational solutions. And we appreciate cooperation in a spirit of an enlightened, common sense. Who if not science journalists should commit themselves to these principles?

EUSJA has to reflect the changes of media and science communication in order to regain its reputation. Study trips are fine but cannot be the central task of EUSJA. If EUSJA wants to regain its relevance it should become a platform to discuss and develop strategies against increasing threats to science and science journalism. I suggest commissioning some proper research as it befits such an association: How many science journalists can actually afford to work as science journalists and are not forced to do some side jobs? But EUSJA should not confine itself to complain about the change and to mourn the losses. EUSJA should look at new formats like the March for Science, UK Scientists for EU, Science Media Centres, and more, and enable comparisons in order to draw fruitful conclusions.

Two practical motions for the new board, lessons learned the very hard way if you will:

  • No participation in any third-party project without securing proper management, a budget projection, and an approval by the General Assembly.
  • Participation in any third-party project can only be approved if it serves to fund the general secretary, the board activities and the GA of EUSJA. Commissioning individuals i.e. journalists is prohibited.

Let me end with another quote from Billy Wilder: “Nobody’s perfect”. Thanks to the work of Jens, Marina, Antonio and Kaianders, EUSJA has another chance to re-establish itself as a voice of reason. If this chance is wasted–be it for the lack of support from all associations, be it for the lack of courage for decisive measures from the General Assembly–I am afraid that EUSJA will finally sink into irrelevance.