David Walmsley: ‘Journalism is about having the wherewithal to recognise what you don’t know’

2020-12-04. A partnership with The Royal Society of Canada enabled the Globe and Mail to tap scientific researchers’ expertise on COVID-19, while bringing the society’s perspectives to a wider audience.

by Simone Flueckiger | December 4, 2020

During WAN-IFRA’s recent Science in the Newsroom Global Summit 2020, David Walmsley, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail, and Darren Gilmore, Executive Director of The Royal Society of Canada, discussed their mutually beneficial collaboration.

Click here to watch the full recording of the conversation YouTube.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, teaming up with a scientific organisation offers news outlets an opportunity to tap into researchers’ expertise and augment their science and health reporting.

The Globe and Mail made this move early on in the pandemic, joining forces with The Royal Society of Canada as part of The Zero Canada Project, a hub featuring resources for Canadians living through the pandemic.

“The Globe and Mail has a dedicated science correspondent and we also have a dedicated and distinguished health policy reporter, and neither of those roles has been diluted over the decades,” said David Walmsley.

“Both of those reporters have got decades’ worth of experience individually, and they are well recognised for their expertise, but with COVID, we realised that we were starting with something totally new. We didn’t understand the science, we didn’t understand the transmission, we didn’t understand the scale and we needed help.”

With The Zero Canada Project, The Globe and Mail created a dedicated online resource, bringing together in-depth reporting and analysis as well as helpful and actionable insights designed to help Canadians deal with the pandemic and reduce its spread. In partnering with The Royal Society of Canada, it gained access to the knowledge and expertise of the society’s members as well as its COVID-19 task force, while increasing the reach of the society’s perspectives.

Tapping into expertise

“Rather than just leaning on our health policy team, our education team, and our science team, we recognised that we needed the skills coming from those who were learning in real-time inside the science world,” Walmsley said.

“Journalism is about having the wherewithal to recognise what you don’t know. It’s about reaching into expertise.”

So far, some 50 pieces coming from the RSC have been published on the Zero Canada Project’s website, ranging from op-ed style pieces to articles of several thousand words on the immune responses to SARS-CoV-2, complete with bibliographical citations.

“What’s one of the extraordinary things is the reader response,” said Darren Gilmore, Executive Director of The Royal Society of Canada.

“Both within the scientific community but I expect also within The Globe, the readership is grateful for these longer deep dives into the science, including the citations, because representation of science, as we know, has been a tricky space during the pandemic.”

A mutually beneficial collaboration

For Walmsley, the pieces submitted by the RSC fellows have also provided a huge benefit for the newsroom, allowing reporters to zero in on certain elements of the academic work and produce stories around them. In turn, the Globe and Mail’s reach has inspired many members of the scientific community to approach the RSC to contribute to the COVID-19 task force’s efforts.

“I think that every newsroom can take this as a chance to experiment and try something, whether you’re working with a smaller specialised scientific group or whether you’re working with a broad and illustrious organisation such as the Royal Society,” Walmsley said.

“Providing that knowledge and that content and saying that you’re open to that opportunity without having to own every word that’s written is, I think, a blessing. It relieves some of the pressures and responsibilities that otherwise editors may feel about how they’re able to keep up with the discovery of what remains still a largely unknown story.”

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