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Reflections On Science

Who’s reporting science-related issues in New Zealand?

Posted in Reflections On Science on March 17th, 2010.

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.

Rachel Thomas, science and environment reporter, The Dominion Post.

Rachel ThomasWhy did you get into science journalism?

Good science is critical to news. I love the chance to dive into new research each day and constantly tap into an untold field of experts that inform the public in ways Google never could.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

Robot technology, climate change and space.

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

Making the ongoing issues fresh. Climate change is the biggest issue of our generation yet, without a fresh angle, it’s difficult to give it the attention it deserves.

Science jargon – complicated research terms, and interpreting them used to pose more of a challenge but scientists are beginning to better understand the need to translate their findings into layman’s terms and pulling out the interesting aspects, instead of leaving it up to journalists.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science?

Studying the effects of coastal erosion out at Mokau and up at Cooks Beach, and having an excuse to pique my childish curiosity with questions like “could we really bring back dinosaurs”?

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

Be curious, be open-minded and remember science is everywhere. The value of academic research in a story can be the difference between hype and fact. And use Scimex! It’s a goldmine.


Simon Morton, Presenter and Producer, Radio New Zealand’s This Way Up and BBC World Service Click.

full_Simon_Morton_2015Why did you get into science journalism?

I’ve always been curious about the world we live in and science explains life.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

Health, genetics, microbiology, technology – if it matters then I’m interested.

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

There’s a smaller pool of scientists and specialists than say, the US or the EU, which can be a challenge.  Translating sometimes complex scientific ideas and theories into a compelling radio story whilst being accurate and at the same time engaging.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science?

Reporting from the UK on the Transit of Venus was a real privilege as was meeting Stephen Hawking.  More recently I’m really enjoying learning about the ….omics, from genomics to transcriptomics, the hidden world of molecular biology and its significance fascinates me.  It’s also a real challenge, both creatively and intellectually to communicate this to an audience.

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

Have a passion, keep learning, read voraciously, ask questions, have fun.


Jamie Morton, Science and Environment Reporter, for the New Zealand Herald.

Why did you get into science journalism?

I’ve always had an interest in science, namely because of its significance and appeal.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

I’m particularly interested in science that matters to all of us – particularly involving health and the environment – but just as much so those stories with instant reader interest, such as weird research findings or amazing advances in innovation and technology.

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

Simplifying scientific research and analysis into an easily digestible and appealing story while still retaining accuracy… that and sometimes balancing such research against counter-claims, especially in controversial or emotional areas of science.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science?

Covering the Ross Sea debate, the scientific facets of the Rena disaster and discussing with GNS scientists the probability of volcanic eruptions just a few days before Mt Tongariro blew.

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

Never underestimate the importance or appeal of science reporting. Take advantage of the Science Media Centre… few rounds in journalism enjoy such an invaluable and spin-free resource for reporters.


Delwyn Dickey, Senior Reporter for Rodney Times

Why did you get into science journalism?

I have always had a natural curiosity about the world around me and how it all works.

A fascination with all things “space” came from being an avid reader of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov’s wonderful science fiction as a youngster, and watching Carl Sagan’s glorious Cosmos. I find geology and the mountain wilderness inspiring, and also love the ocean and with it marine science.

Aside from being drawn to cover things that interest me on a personal level, I strongly believe journalism is necessary for a functioning democracy, that journalists are the public’s watch dogs.  This includes science and environment issues where the public should know what will affect them or what has been clouded with misinformation. Climate change is an obvious one.

Most journalists come from an arts background so I also felt there was a real need for more science journalism.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

Though it can be a bit nerve racking to start with – anything I know almost nothing about, as well as just about anything that will get me out of the office.

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

Convincing people further up the ladder that a particular story is important. Trying to research a topic properly under tight deadlines. Specialising in some areas can make this easier as you’re more up to date from the start.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science?

Every time I do a job I learn something new. That’s often fascinating and I feel I have a much better understanding of the how world around me works. Also that I am actually making a difference – there is so much nonsense on the internet, it’s rewarding to think I’ve helped people get to the truth or cleared up some misconceptions.

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

It’s unlikely you’ll only be writing science pieces- bring as much science into your other stories as you can.Believe that your work is important – we live in an ever more technical world but the public is becoming less science savvy.

Don’t be afraid to read your work past scientists to check facts, if you are able. In my experience they really appreciate it, trust you more, and it can also stop you making some colossal mistakes.


Dr Rebecca Priestley, science writer and columnist for the Listener.

Why did you get into science writing?

Before I considered science writing as a career it was always a toss up between being a scientist and being a writer: science writing was a great way to combine my passion for science with my compulsive need to write! My first degree was in earth sciences, but I was too interested in every other type of science to narrow my options by continuing with earth sciences, so writing about science was a great way to keep in touch with what people were doing in all areas of science.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

I recently completed a PhD in the history of science, with a focus on New Zealand’s nuclear and radiation history (the book – Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age will be published by Auckland University Press this August). New Zealand’s science history is a particular interest of mine – it’s a much neglected field – so I always like to try to weave in a bit of historical context to whatever I’m writing about. Favourite topics? Anything to do with nuclear or radiation issues is always going to get my attention, as is anything geological or anything to do with Antarctica, but apart from that I like a good story, especially one that gets me to meet interesting people, go to interesting places and read about some interesting science.

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

Well, being a writer is a challenging sort of a life, but very rewarding. My challenge is probably enjoying my work too much – I can find myself doing way more research than I need to just because I find it so fascinating.

What have you enjoyed most in your time covering science?

Going to Antarctica in December last year! I spent 12 days there, based at Scott Base, but going out every day to interview scientists working on or under the sea ice, and in the Dry Valleys and glaciers around the Ross Ice Shelf. I blogged about it at

What would you say to aspiring science writers? 

First, get a science degree! Study something that you really enjoy, or try to cover a wide range of subjects that you’re interested in. It’s great to have a specialty field that you can write about, and it will help you to get inside the heads of the people you’re going to be interviewing. After that, study science communication, or journalism. But most of all, write. And as well as writing, read! Read about what’s going on in the world of science, and think about how that science is being communicated. Who are your favourite science writers and why? There’s no reason you have to wait until you’ve graduated to start writing – you can start a science blog now. But a word of caution – once you graduate, don’t expect anyone to give you “a job” as a science writer, you might have to forge your own career.

Samantha Hayes, Presenter Newshub 6pm bulletinsam 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?

nything 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.

alison ballance smallAlison Ballance, Producer and Presenter ‘Our Changing World‘, Radio New Zealand National

Why did you get into science journalism/show production?

I’m a story teller, with a particular passion for telling stories about the natural world and about science. I have an MSc in zoology, and joined Our Changing World in October 2008, after 18 years producing and directing wildlife documentaries with television production company NHNZ in Dunedin. I’ve also written a number of books. I’m enjoying the simplicity, immediacy and intelligence of radio as a medium for story-telling, and I really appreciate that it allows scientists to talk about their research in their own words, which means there is no risk of the truth getting lost in a poor translation. As well, I like it that our stories are 12-minutes long, so we have a good amount of time to climb into a subject and talk about it in some detail.

Which are your favourite issues to cover?

Our Changing World is a one-hour weekly radio show that I co-present and co-produce with Ruth Beran and Veronika Meduna. Each week we present four stories that cover science, the environment and health research, with a strong emphasis on New Zealand research and researchers. I tend to focus on environment stories, and most enjoy getting out in the field with people recording sound-rich pieces that give a real sense of place.

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

Finding interesting ways of telling compelling stories about complex science, and finding a point of difference from other parts of Radio New Zealand that are increasingly realising that science is a rich source of interesting stories! But that challenge also shows how much has changed, from the days when no one covered science stories to today, when increasing numbers of people realise how much science impacts on our life and how important it is to understand it.

What have you enjoyed most in your time reporting science/producing science shows?

I love getting out to remote places, such as the subantarctic islands, Fiordland and the Chathams, and being able to spend time with experts in the field, sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge with everyone else.

What would you say to aspiring science reporters?

A science degree is a good start, but better than that is an open mind, curiosity, a willingness to read and learn. Enthusiasm and self-motivation will get you a long way.

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