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Writer Speaks to Industry’s Decline

The Badger Herald | 19 February 2009

Wilson da Silva addresses UW students Tuesday
Wilson da Silva addresses UW students Tuesday

By Matt Weingarten

Australian editor-in-chief selected to be University of Wisconsin's science writer-in-residence for spring 2009.

An Australian science journalist told a crowd at the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday the Internet news revolution is having a negative effect on science journalism and newspapers internationally.

“News is becoming a commodity, and newspapers need to see themselves … in the business of news,” said Wilson da Silva, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning Australian science magazine COSMOS.

The bi-monthly COSMOS is the most popular science magazine, with most of its revenue coming from subscriptions and off-the-rack buys.

Da Silva said traditional print sources focus too much on advertising and classifieds for revenue; however, the model is shown to be slowly failing. The Internet has supplanted those revenues with its instant access and 24-hour news cycles.

“People like to have a choice, even if they do not choose,” da Silva said. “Diversity is key to create a well-rounded and attractive popular science magazine.”

Da Silva said his magazine’s reporting model is integrating crafted literary writing to portray science as a natural part of culture. He said focus is placed on the characters involved in the science just as much as the science itself.

“We have a quote in our office: ‘We don’t do worthy - we do interesting,’” da Silva said when asked what science stories he chooses to report in his magazine.

Da Silva also discussed whether science journalism is in trouble with declining job numbers and shrinking newspaper science sections.

Da Silva was recently selected by UW to be its science writer in residence for spring 2009, a position formerly held by three Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.

Da Silva, a past president of the World Federation of Science Journalists and recipient of 23 journalism awards, is highly regarded for his contributions to the field of science journalism.

He has an extensive résumé ranging from being the two-time winner of Editor of the Year for his work on COSMOS, to winning the equivalent of an Oscar in Australia for filmmaking, to having the possibility of traveling into outer space as part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic commercial space mission.

As the science writer in residence, da Silva will spend this entire week on campus, giving guest lectures, visiting classes and working individually with students and faculty to bring new perspective on how science news and print magazines are created.

Terry Devitt, UW director of research communication, said he is delighted to bring da Silva to campus this semester.

“This a terrific opportunity for our students and faculty to benefit from the unique perspective that Wilson da Silva brings to science journalism,” Devitt said.

The 24-year-old science writer in residence program was established by the Brittingham Trust with additional support from the UW Foundation to bring in the nation’s leading science writers.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication partnered with University Communications to sponsor the program this semester.


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