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When we set up the Science Media Centre back in June 2008, science reporting in the mainstream media was largely left to a handful of mainly junior reporters who had to juggle the round alongside general reporting duties and who weren’t destined to stick with science for long.

The situation, thankfully, has changed somewhat for the better, though the media is still up against it when it comes to resourcing news gathering in general. At least now there’s a stable of reporters committed to covering science-related issues across the media and while they don’t all get to cover science and environmental issues full-time, there seems to be a growing appetite for covering in these areas.

In a week where the polluted state of our rivers and streams and an environmental snapshot of the Auckland region made front-page news, that is not surprising.

So who are the reporters covering these types of stories? When I randomly ask people to name a New Zealand science writer, I’m usually greated with a blank stare, but occasionally people will come back with Simon Collins (former New Zealand Herald science reporter now social issues reporter), Rebecca Priestley (still doing the odd feature for the Listener) and Kim Hill (still featuring a steady stream of scientists on her Saturday morning radio show).

But there’s a new generation of journalists coming through and enthusiastically tacking science-related subject matter. In the first of what I hope will be a multi-part series, we’ve profiled some them…

New Zealand has some fine science and environment reporters reporting for print, television and radio. Based all over the country, from Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch, they help to ensure that New Zealanders are kept up to date with science and environment issues both here and abroad.

The Science Media Centre approached some of them, and asked them to share how and why they became science/environment reporters, why they love it, and their advice for inspiring journalists.  Their answers, and more besides, are below, and we will add further profiles as they come in.

eloise gibson smallEloise Gibson, Science Reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Why did you get into science journalism?

I’m a curious type and I love reading good science stories in the newspapers. I became the science reporter partly because it fitted well with my other round — covering the environment. It is impossible to write about environmental issues without covering the scientific research, so it made sense to extend that to cover other science developments as well.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

I think for any science journalist climate change is both the single most interesting topic and the single most difficult to cover. I also love the smaller quirky stories — findings of ancient creatures or odd plants.

What challenges are there to being a science reporter in New Zealand?

I think science journalists face the same issues as all journalists, including that there is never enough time to do their jobs. Explaining complex science is particularly challenging when you are on a tight deadline.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science?

My favourite thing about my job is when I get talking to scientist who is passionate about their particular niche, whether it be an obscure creature or a tiny slice of the solar system. It never ceases to amaze me that there are entire teams of people dedicated to finding out about things that most people don’t know exist. I’ve found scientists are generally very patient about explaining their work to me, and there are some great characters out there working at CRIs and universities.

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

Goffurrit.

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david williams smallDavid Williams, Environment Reporter for

The Press

Why did you get into environment journalism?

To save the world, of course.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

Climate change and conservation.

What challenges are there to being a environment reporter in New Zealand?

Many and varied. For those of us without academic science training the biggest challenge is the translation of jargon-filled reports into easy-to-understand language. More generally, condensing large reports into a few hundred words. It all comes with the territory, really.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting environmental stories?

Getting out and about. Cleaning up rivers and seeing conservation work first hand.

What would you say to aspiring environment reporters?

Set a goal and work towards it. Mine is to have one story appear in National Geographic.

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Samantha Hayes, Environment Reporter for TV3 sam hayes small

Why did you get into environment journalism?

After a few years in the studio at TV3 I decided it was time to get out and about reporting again. I grew up traipsing around in New Zealand’s wilderness and what better way to spend the working day than filming stories about our native species or research related to sustaining that beautiful environment.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

Anything to do with our national parks, native birds and plants and endangered species. New Zealand research, especially related to bio fuels and ways we can make our communities more sustainable. Climate change, whaling, conservation, fisheries and waste reduction.

What challenges are there to being a environment reporter in New Zealand?

A lot of research papers are written overseas so it’s tricky finding people to interview on camera, that’s where SMC can be a great help!

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting environmental stories?

The most rewarding part is meeting people who are extremely passionate about their slice of the world, people who have spent decades researching penguins or seals. I’m have a feeling one day I’ll interview someone and suddenly realise they have my dream job and I’ll never make it back to the newsroom…

What would you say to aspiring environment reporters?

Listen to every point of view, it’ll keep your stories honest and balanced.

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will hineWill Hine, Science Reporter for Radio New Zealand

Why did you get into science journalism?

My father worked for NIWA for many years as a marine pathologist and I think my interest grew out of that.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

I find earth sciences extremely interesting. I also like how science and technology can be used create innovative, world leading products.

What challenges are there to being a science reporter in New Zealand?

I think many science reporters, like me, need to juggle science with other reporting duties. That can be a challenge. There’s also the constant challenge of making complex information understandable to the audience, while staying true to the science.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science?

I found the opening of the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre in Palmerston North very interesting.

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

It pays to repeat back to scientists your understanding of what they’re saying so they’ve got the opportunity to tweak any points you might have got wrong.

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