Storytelling and science journalism: in conversation with Dr Kit Chapman
07 April 2022
Dr Kit Chapman shares how his award-winning science journalism practice and zeal for storytelling are shaping Falmouth’s online MA Journalism course.
Holding a master's degree in pharmacy and a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, journalism may seem like a surprising career for Dr Kit Chapman. However, a natural love of storytelling combined with a strong belief in the importance of trust sheds some light on why he chose to pursue such a different path.
“One of the things I was taught when I was first starting out in journalism is this: imagine you rush into the pub, and you tell your friends about some breaking news - that’s how you turn your story into its first line. Well, I always want to be the one rushing into the pub. I love that feeling of being able to tell people something they don’t know. So, journalism is the perfect career for me to do that.”
Formerly an editor for Chemistry World, and published in Nature, New Scientist, The Daily Telegraph, Chemist+Druggist and BBC Science Focus among others, Kit has recently joined the department as course leader for MA Journalism (Online) and is excited about building on Falmouth’s legacy for environmental journalism, and at such a critical time.
“One of the fantastic things about Falmouth is that we have a pedigree for green and environmental journalism, so to be able to build on that history and to expand it is something that I’m keen to do. Last year we held Reporting Earth, an online environmental journalism summit, which reached hundreds of thousands of people online, and so we have this history and passion for engaging with those kinds of stories.”
“We’ve seen with climate change and the Covid pandemic the importance of good science journalism, and of accurately conveying information. There has never been a more important time to have outstanding science and environment journalists.”
We teach journalism not just for now, but for the future as well, innovating in new areas that journalists have not even considered yet within the industry.
Kit’s journalistic career has taken him to over seventy countries and has seen him report on numerous high-profile stories, including going behind the scenes when University College London and Mercedes’ Formula 1 team helped to fight Covid by building 10,000 breathing machines in just a few days. In addition to this rich journalistic experience, Kit’s knowledge of science and knack for storytelling have coalesced into two published books. His most recent title, Racing Green, tells the story of how motorsport science has become more environmentally friendly and how such changes can have a wider impact.
“If we are going to beat climate change, we need to think about things holistically. I have always loved motorsports, and the many spinoff technologies that have come out of them have changed our world in ways that we don’t think about. For instance, we use aerodynamics from Formula 1 in supermarket freezers to reduce carbon footprints. I wanted to show people that our world is so interconnected.”
Racing Green has already topped the Amazon Bestseller list in several categories, and Kit will be taking to the stage at Chris Evans’s charity festival CarFest South later this year to share it with thousands of people. “I’m doing my talk at 1pm, and McFly are on after that, so I will literally be opening for McFly!”
Kit is no stranger to sharing his work with large audiences, regularly appearing on radio, TV and podcasts, talking to thousands of people around the world on science, writing and history. “The biggest talk I’ve ever given was being invited to lecture at the Royal Institution in London, which is huge for a science communicator and journalist. It’s the place where Carl Sagan has lectured, and it started out with Humphry Davy, so to be able to give the birthday lecture for its 223rd birthday was the highlight of my career so far.”
So, what is Kit most looking forward to in his new role as MA Journalism (Online) course leader? “I’m always most excited about engaging with the students. When you see a student understand something, and the lightbulb turns on, that’s one of the greatest moments you can have as an educator. But it is also seeing what people produce. The packages and ideas that our final-year students are creating are incredibly exciting; they are ready-made for major news outlets. So, to see students taking what we have taught them and applying that in ways that are world-beating is fantastic.”
Those major news outlets are situated in an industry irrevocably changed by the rise of the internet and recent global crises, so what does Kit think is the biggest challenge currently facing journalists? “There are so many bad actors out there and takes that are deliberately misleading. People need good journalists to help steer them in the right direction about what’s really going on. The challenge is to cut through all of that and to make your voice heard. And that’s something that we are really focused on at Falmouth. We know that authority and trust form the backbone of journalism.”
Kit is confident the course will equip aspiring journalists with the knowledge and skills required to thrive in this complex contemporary environment. “Falmouth has a terrific reputation for providing outstanding journalism students, and we are really focused on 21st century journalism. We are not talking about the traditional skills anymore, although you will learn those too. We are talking about mobile and audiovisual journalism and understanding how the internet shapes our practice. We teach journalism not just for now, but for the future as well, innovating in new areas that journalists have not even considered yet within the industry.”