Journalism and documentary filmmaking, to which photojournalism can be added, are, and could be even more so, two important elements in spreading sea culture and a basic knowledge of this environment. As a whole, it still appears too foreign to everyday life where it peeps out especially during summer periods or in the case of natural phenomena with catastrophic outcomes such as a tsunami, sightings of large cetaceans or sharks or massive presences of unusual species (e.g., sea nuts in the news in 2019) or jellyfish. Other reasons to stimulate seafood journalism have been, and from time to time will return to be, climate change and the consequent warming of the waters, alien species or the presence of plastic in seas and oceans, an issue that has almost gone by the wayside because, it should be remembered, in the world of journalism, especially in the area of newspapers, news has to be as fresh as fish.
Apart from this detail, the sphere of interest or if you prefer the area of intervention or interchange between journalism and marine experts, such as those belonging to the various categories represented within AIOSS, is potentially very wide. As fleetingly mentioned just above, and to remain in the press sector, communication through print media goes from daily to weekly to monthly, and each of these categories has its own characteristics and needs. Newspapers usually turn to experts only in exceptional cases that can attract the interest of readers (e.g., abnormal water coloration, shark sightings) and, generally, they do so through point interviews aimed at local biologists or the authors of the report with results that are not always satisfactory from the point of view of proper scientific communication forgetting that on the other side of the paper there is a reader now able to check, if he or she wants, the validity of the information conveyed by the journalist. Obviously the situation changes for the better when it comes to newspaper pages expressly devoted to science. In the case of weekly periodicals (we can recall e.g. the popular science supplements of newspapers such as La Stampa or La Repubblica) and even more so of monthly magazines (e.g. National Geographic), the space devoted to more precise and timely information, often written directly by scientists or scientifically trained journalists, is much greater in part due to a greater possibility of scheduling, less tied to news events, and organization of articles, and this is without entering the realm of high science popularization magazines such as Le Scienze, which can count on a more than well-established and authoritative pool of contributors.
While the availability of experts may be wide, the same cannot be said of the demand, and the statistics do not help. The numbers say it: only 1.7 percent of the headlines in the major newspapers, both print and television, are devoted to the subject of the environment, and considering the vastness of this topic it can safely be said that the sea, as much as it attracts, occupies a minimal part. Moreover, today there is a lack of, or they are almost extinct with rare exceptions, the popular nature and environment and diving magazines that enriched the Italian publishing scene from the 1970s to the first decade of the 21st century and that were for many marine biologists a great opportunity to disseminate their knowledge. The place of the printed paper has currently been taken by websites whose scientific validity and expertise is very varied and which can be run either by private individuals or by associations or research institutes that often make available to users data and information about their research and results also in a popular form.
The development of increasingly advanced technologies, at increasingly accessible costs, has given a significant boost to activities such as photojournalism (much of popular communication, more than scientific communication is based on images) and documentary filmmaking. The former, thanks to digital, has experienced a development that was unimaginable until a decade ago, and underwater photography has become an indispensable or almost indispensable technique for those involved in marine biology, even if specific photography courses within the curricula that teach how to tell the story through images are not widespread. As for documentary filmmaking (see, for example, the film “Giannutri Soft Bottoms: from exploration to conservation”), this is an area where greater collaboration between marine biologists and video operators would be desirable, two professions that rarely coincide and that find themselves collaborating according to agreed projects and with the possibility of being financed, even in our country, by private sponsors and television networks to whom the task of providing for their dissemination and valorization would fall. It is quite incomprehensible, in fact, that almost all of the sea footage offered by television schedules is of foreign origin and almost always dedicated to seas far from the Mediterranean despite the presence in our country of scientists and video operators with proven experience.
Professional underwater photographer during the making of a reportage
But is engaging in journalism or if you prefer communication for the general public by marine biologists a necessity or a casual activity? The answer, given the scientific illiteracy that surrounds, this specific case, the sciences of the sea (sharks called mammals and similar pleasantries) is almost taken for granted: it is a necessity and indeed a duty as moreover implicitly recognized even by the SIBM (Italian Society of Marine Biology) which has an internal committee dedicated to Dissemination and Dissemination). One may also wonder if choosing to go into science journalism and tell the sea sciences through the word, especially the written word, is really such a far cry from the plans one generally makes when one starts studying marine biology or another water-related discipline? Actually, on reflection, this is not so since there is a close link between the methods of journalism and those of research. Like a researcher, in fact, those who engage in journalism must ask themselves a series of questions in order to know the situation well and describe it. Such questions are the famous five Ws around which the world of the press revolves, regardless of the medium used (paper, web, radio or television broadcasting), namely: What, Who, Where, When, Why.
It should also be acknowledged that, in contrast to the past, the activity of popularizer or science communicator is having its own recognition in the educational field. As an example among many possible, I would like to mention what is reported on the University of Bologna website, in the pages dedicated to the Master's Degree in Marine Biology where one can read that, in a work context, the Marine Biologist can also play the role of scientific and didactic popularizer, work in the field of scientific, naturalistic and environmental popularization and find employment outlets as a professional in scientific popularization, promotion and naturalistic-tourist didactics, including underwater. These are certainly possibilities for employment or at least expanding them in a field that, according to data on the website of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, sees about a third of graduates engaged in the public sector, for example in journalism, teaching or communication. Some universities have developed training paths or modules, as in the case of the Università Politecnica delle Marche, which provides ad hoc activities in science dissemination, underwater science photography and videos, science communication, science photography and videos, popular writing, and preparation for conferences and environmental dissemination activities.
These are opportunities worth exploiting, and in this the AIOSS can have and important task given also its organizing and steering function in order to promote a closer relationship between civil society and the marine environment. This purpose is also expressed through the training of expert communicators capable of transferring the scientific expertise acquired to a larger number of stakeholders, thus to stakeholders who are not the classic stakeholders of all projects, but who can become equally influential. Creating an informed public, capable of valuing our marine research, is not a waste of time but means laying the groundwork for the environment and research to count for more and not be considered "one more."
Professional underwater photographer during the making of a reportage
Example of an investigative article in the daily press by an underwater journalist
Mojetta A. (2020) Il giornalista e il documentarista subacqueo. Identikit professionali degli Operatori Scientifici Subacquei. La collana del faro, Il Pianeta Azzurro, 2/2020: 14-17.
A marine biologist, diver and journalist, he follows the underwater section of The Magazine of NATURA. After various experiences as a researcher, he began collaborating with nature and underwater magazines and periodicals (The Magazine of NATURA, AQVA, Oasis, Sub, Airone, National Geographic) and television networks. Author of more than 300 articles and some 50 books, often translated, dedicated to the water world, he won the 1997 award for the best guide to the underwater world at the World Underwater Image Festival in Antibes. In 2012, for his intensive work on behalf of the marine environment, he was awarded the prestigious Golden Trident of the International Academy of Underwater Sciences and Techniques.