New Zealand’s first fund for science journalism

A Victoria University of Wellington academic has launched New Zealand's first contestable journalism fund dedicated to furthering coverage of science-related issues.

Rebecca Priestley
Dr Rebecca Priestley receiving the 2016 Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize from Prime Minister Bill English.

Dr Rebecca Priestley, senior lecturer in Victoria’s Science in Society Group, was awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize earlier this year.

Using a significant portion of her $100,000 prize, Dr Priestley is leading the establishment of the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund, which has been launched in collaboration with the Science Media Centre.

It’s New Zealand’s first fund to support independent science journalism.

“It’s become clear that New Zealanders need accessible, independent coverage of complex and fast-changing science, environment, health and technology-related issues,” says Dr Priestley.

“Despite recent surveys showing New Zealanders are interested in science, many still struggle to understand its role in their lives.”

Dr Priestley says science too often loses out to infotainment and sensationalism.

“In-depth coverage of important science-related issues is increasingly difficult for the mainstream media to resource. It would be great if there wasn’t a need for this fund and the industry wasn’t so stretched.

“We need to stimulate and support science journalism. Ultimately our aim is to encourage New Zealanders to understand, discuss and ask informed questions about science.”

The first round of funding has also been supported by the Deep South National Science Challenge and Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence.

Proposals are currently being accepted for projects around controversial technologies, climate change and its implications for New Zealand, and the role of science in the upcoming General Election.

Applications for the grants, worth between $500 and $10,000, close 5pm, Monday 31 July. The winning grants will be decided by a panel of judges, including representatives from GNS Science and the Universities of Waikato and Canterbury.

“It’s open to all professional journalists as well as freelancers,” says Peter Griffin, Director of Science Media Centre.

“The fund will support in-depth, evidence-based journalism that makes that link between major issues facing society, and the science that underpins or informs them.”

Dr Priestley is a Victoria alumna, graduating with a Bachelor of Science with Honours in 1993. She also has a PhD from the University of Canterbury. She is currently studying toward a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) whilst on research and study leave, and recently led Victoria’s first international MOOC (massive online open course) about Antarctic science, through the prestigious edX platform.

Dr Priestley also plans to use her prize money to develop a new MOOC about science communication, and bring an international expert to New Zealand to present masterclasses and run workshops for science communicators.