Rafael Serra is the director of Quercus, «a magazine about conservation of biology» with a trajectory of more than thirty years. Rafael Serra talks to us about the virtues and difficulties of his magazine and of science communication in Spain.
One of the problems journalists face is how to address science information in order to make it appealing and educational. What are the keys to draw the attention of the reader, in your opinion? If you ask on the street, everyone will tell you they are really interested in the conservation of nature. But this is a half-truth: there is a relative interest on the topic. There is an innate, gentle impulse towards altruistic topics to which it is very easy to get attached. But then, if you delve on the issue, everything stops being so simple. To preserve nature you have to question your development and lifestyle model, and then that initial conservationist impulse starts to falter. Then, how to attract attention? Firstly, relating these seemingly distant topics with your own daily life; then trying to make what you convey attractive; and then proving that science and communication are not, in fact, separated by a barrier, and one must not fear innovation.
What do you think are the main differences between the fields of science and journalism? Are they irreconcilable? No, no, they are perfectly reconcilable. We really need scientists who know how to communicate and journalists with enough scientific education to digest and convey scientific information. I believe these two worlds are perfectly complementary, although we have to mend some fences that were created probably from basic education. The problem of not being able to convey scientific knowledge lies probably in our education system.
Which one of these would you prefer for your science communication magazine: a journalist with a notion of science or a scientist with knowledge about journalism? Both formulas are valid; the difference lies in the result. And both are attractive: a journalist with science knowledge can be very useful and can communicate and inform very accurately; and a scientist who cared to get down from that bubble they usually move in –not very approachable by the rest of the audience– and gets close to common interests and language, can do it perfectly. The problem is they have to want to do it.
Social networks and the information age modified communication reality. How did new technologies change your magazine? Do you think written press has a future in your field? In my field it has. In fact, digital journalism is still an experiment. We will see if I need to phrase this back to front, but for the moment written journalism is the one with future prospect. Digital journalism is just a long-term bet; we will see how it works out.
Your magazine deals with environmental communication. What challenges, in particular, must a specialized magazine such as yours face? Preserve biodiversity is considered by the United Nations as one of the most important duties in today’s world. We sometimes forget that we are part of that biodiversity, we depend on it, we feed and live thanks to it. It is a poor deal not to preserve it. That serves as a general postulate. And then this postulate needs to be applied to day-to-day customs, and there is where we meet more reluctance. That is what we have to do.
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