Not so friendly to science: a story’s ripple effect

Jon Roe

Jon RoeWhen I started at the Gauntlet, I really had no idea what I wanted to do after university. I surely never expected to win an award for journalism. I simply thought that writing for the student newspaper would be fun, so I kept coming back to the office because of the people who worked there. I began to enjoy writing and journalism more as time passed.

I particularly enjoyed doing in-depth research and providing solid information to my readers. That’s what really made the “Friends of Science” article exciting to me.  I knew about the connection between the Friends of Science and the University of Calgary for about a year before I began the piece. Chris Beauchamp, the former Gauntlet editor-in-chief, had also found on YouTube the group’s video series that dispelled global warming as unsubstantiated.

Throughout the summer of 2007, I spent time compiling research about the organization and reading what others had written about it.  I realized that although the organization had received national coverage, there was nothing in any of the Calgary newspapers.

It took time to build my sources and a structure for the story.  Sorting out the information, more than anything else, was the biggest challenge. There was so much that I didn’t know the best way to focus the story.  In fact, I had enough information to fill three or four issues.  

Because of space limitations and an upcoming journalism conference, co-hosted by the Gauntlet, we set a final deadline for the first issue in November 2007.  Once a hard deadline became a reality, the story came together in the week leading up to the publication. I spent most of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the office, finishing the story. Unfortunately, to me, the story was not as tight as it should have been because it gelled so close to deadline. Looking back, this was a big story that needed more than one editor to help with the final published version.

I guess like many journalists who deal with complex stories, we can be our own worst critics.  Immediately after the final version of the story appeared, I thought it was terrible. As it turned out, the reaction was fairly positive, and I was glad other people enjoyed the story even if it wasn’t necessarily my best work.

In my view, the story was important because it told an audience that may have been unaware of the group information they needed to know.  What satisfied me most as a journalist was the story’s ripple effect.  After the story appeared, the university released its audit at the end of the school year, and other Calgary papers reported on the figures.  Also, more national stories reported on the Friends of Science and its involvement in a potentially illegal ad campaign during the federal election.

Seeing the story having such an impact made all of the hard work – the skipped classes and the sleepless nights – worth it.

Read “Friends of Science”

Jon Roe is a fourth-year economics student at the University of Calgary, where he is currently editor-in-chief at the Gauntlet. He also freelances for the Calgary Herald and worked in the Herald’s Stampede office last summer. “Friends of Science” won a Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) award.