Alumnus recognised with prestigious media award

29 August 2017

University of Queensland alum Carl Smith has been recognised at the 2017 Walkley Awards in the category of Young Journalist of the Year (longform), for his radio series Bionic Bodies.

The ABC Radio National The Science Show series focused on people whose lives had been changed as a result of advances in bionics.

UQ Alumni News recently caught up with Mr Smith to ask him about his career and passion for combining science and media.


Were you always drawn to broadcast journalism or has it been a less linear career journey for you?

"I was always a big fan of radio and podcasting, but when I came to UQ my goal was to become a scientist.

"I’d always been passionate about science and research, so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Environmental Science. I soon got involved with the university’s online radio station, JACRadio, and after getting a taste for playing with audio, I decided to switch to a dual Science/Journalism degree.

"Radio has always been my favourite medium to work in, but I like working across radio and TV – the two often cross-pollinate in interesting ways."


Can you summarise your Walkley winning piece and what inspired you to craft this particular story?

"I had previously done a shorter story on bionics that got me interested in this vein of research.

"I pitched the series to the Science Show in late 2015, because things had begun to change quite rapidly in the field. Bionics is an interesting field that sits at the junction between science, engineering, technology, and medicine. It also touches on plenty of interesting and worthwhile questions within medical ethics.

"That combination, and some exciting new developments in the field, was enough to get the idea off the ground. From there, I jumped into the literature and I hunted for great stories of people who were using or trialing robotic body parts.

"I was really keen to make sure this series wasn’t just about new science – it’s a story about people who are regaining functionality in their bodies because of science."


Why did you choose to study Science and Journalism at UQ? How have the two complimented each other in your chosen career path?

"Most people seem to think these two fields don’t really mix very well, but I’ve found the exact opposite. There are plenty of similarities: both fields seek knowledge, objectively weigh evidence, and present their findings.

"Within the journalism industry, having a science background has proven incredibly useful. Many journalists shy away from science reporting, but it’s important that Australian science stories are told. Having a background in science, and an understanding of research and the scientific method, has helped me step into stories that others wouldn’t or felt they couldn’t. I’ve also been incredibly lucky that the ABC has continued to support science as a specialist genre.

"The broader field of science communication is growing quite quickly at the moment, but I think it’s important for science journalism to keep pace. Science communicators are great advocates and translators, but we need science journalists to objectively analyse science too."


Do you think it is important to be fluid in your skill set and capable of changing careers?

"I’m a big fan of dual degrees because it seems many of the people in my demographic who sit between two fields are often finding more success.

"At the moment, it’s incredibly challenging for graduates to find stable work, or to even get a foot in the door. But those who are fusing fields, or bringing new knowledge to their industries seem to be doing quite well.

"I think building a deep but broad knowledge base at university will really help graduates find their footing. Plus, it’s a rapidly changing job market at the moment, so having another area of expertise to fall back on might be handy. To me, this puts you on the footing of embracing change, rather than trying to react to it.

"However, landing a job should be the end of your education. In journalism, you have no idea how different the industry will look in 10 years, or even in five. 

"Picking up new skills on the job is crucial. Since joining the ABC I’ve learned how to file across TV, Radio and Online, I’ve got experience reporting in short and long formats, I’ve learned how to edit video and how to use a camera in the field, and I’ve figured out how to pitch programs to different audiences. Especially in journalism it’ll be important to embrace change, experiment, and to constantly look for new skills to add to the toolkit."


What are the challenges facing effective science communication?

"I think there are many different audiences for science content at the moment, and effectively communicating to all of them is tricky. I’ve worked a lot with kids, where the assumption is that they might be learning about an area of science for the first time. But Bionic Bodies was pitched at an informed, science-literate audience, so the assumptions are very different.

"Having a mixture of scientists, communicators, and journalists to target those different audiences will be important. However, I also think there’s scope to bring those groups together more often to work on projects that unite various audiences. I would personally like to see more science journalists in universities working with researchers and students earlier in their career."


Do you mentor students or give back to the local community in some capacity?

"Over the past few years I've mentored and trained interns in the workplace, and I've been a mentor for students outside of work through universities.

"I think it's increasingly important for journalists to work together and to help one another, and I'm a big believer in collaborating on projects across divisions, mediums, and organisations."