James Handman

2003 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–Features Winner
handman_james

Patric Senson and James Handman received the Sullivan Award at AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 10 December 2003, in San Francisco, California. The award honors “a single article or radio/television report that makes geophysical material accessible and interesting to the general public.”

Citation

“Jim Handman is one of the best kept secrets at CBC Radio. For more than 20 years he has been a bastion of integrity and an endless source of wit, and has consistently produced award-winning programs in radio news and current affairs.

“Jim is currently the senior producer of Quirks & Quarks, our national science radio program, now in its 27th season, but this role is only one of many over the course of his extensive broadcasting career.

“I first met Jim in the 1980s when he was a producer and I was a regular guest on our national flagship show, Morningside. He demonstrated again and again, a keen journalistic instinct and maintained the high standard of broadcast quality CBC is known for.

“The best demonstration of Jim’s strong leadership skills and ability to perform under pressure came during times of crisis. As September 11th and the Iraq War unfolded, Jim assumed his former role as news director to coordinate our 24-hour coverage. In the chaotic days after the World Trade Center disaster, Jim was the focal point in the control room, making firm, on the spot decisions about exactly what went on the air. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Jim held daily strategy meetings where he stood at the center of a large circle of dozens of producers, delegating responsibilities and laying out a clear plan for the day’s programming.

“Jim came to Quirks & Quarks with a news background. In order to meet the unique challenges of science reporting, he enrolled in a science course for journalists at M.I.T. Jim now teaches science journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, and has made a commitment to bringing student interns into the CBC for firsthand production experience. Many of these interns have found permanent jobs.

“Considering the large number of people who have been influenced by Jim, both outside and inside the CBC, he is most worthy of this award.

“I don’t actually recall my first encounter with Pat Senson, but Pat certainly does. He was among a group of students who surrounded me following a presentation at the University of Guelph. He asked a question I often hear: ‘How do I get into the business?’

“I gave him my usual answer: ‘Either go to journalism school or come up with a good idea and approach a producer or an editor with it. In other words, just do it.’ Little did I know that he would ‘just do it.’ He did more than impress the producer; when asked why he wanted to work on our show, he replied, ‘Because working on Quirks & Quarks is all I’ve ever wanted to do!’

“Well, it worked, and we are all better for it.

“Pat is the only person with actual scientific experience on our science show and has produced items on every conceivable topic, although for some reason lately many of them focus on the strange mating habits in the animal and insect worlds. Pat’s most valuable contribution to the show is his passion for the role of science in society.

“Good science, good entertainment, that’s the business we are in, and as this award demonstrates, these two people do it better that just about anybody.”

—BOB MCDONALD, Host, Quirks & Quarks

Response

“I would like to say, first of all, how deeply honored I am to share in the acceptance of this prestigious award, along with my colleague Pat Senson. As the senior producer of the world’s longest running radio science program, it is particularly gratifying to be recognized by a group of such prominent scientists. It means we got the science right.

“And in the case of the documentary for which we are being honored by the AGU, that’s particularly important. Our radio documentary dealt with the science of climate change. Not the politics. Not the rhetoric. Not the polemics. Just the science. We actually produced 20 minutes of radio journalism without mentioning the Kyoto Accord.

“And that’s not so easy for most journalists. You see, most journalists are used to reporting on politics, where every opinion is equal. I might say some policy or politician is good, you say they’re bad. There is no real answer, and both opinions are valid. But in science, it doesn’t work that way. Using the scientific method, researchers test their theories again and again, and collect more data, and do more studies, and over time, a consensus develops. That’s the situation with climate change. But the general reporter is used to getting one quote from each side. So the 30,000 scientists on one side of the controversy get one quote, and the 30 scientists on the other side get equal time. That just leaves the public thinking that the scientific community is evenly divided on the issues-which it isn’t. And that creates a sense of confusion and alienation among the listeners, viewers, and readers.

“We tried to correct that imbalance in our documentary. And if we helped just one listener understand the complexity of the issue, then we succeeded.

“Our motto is, ‘we’re the only program that promises you the universe, and delivers. And you don’t need a Ph.D. to enjoy it.’ We try to have fun in presenting our scientific stories (in other words, we take the gravity out of a discussion of gravity); and it’s not always easy. But it is challenging, and always rewarding. Especially when our efforts are recognized by the very people whose work we struggle to convey to our listeners.

“Thank you once again for this great honor.”

—JAMES HANDMAN, Toronto, Ontario, Canada