WCSFP ’13: Alison Leigh on the evolution of science

As the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) conference kicks off today in Montreal, the event's editorial director Alison Leigh (pictured) talks to realscreen of astronauts, authors and the digital world.
December 3, 2013

As the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) conference kicks off today (December 3) in Montreal, the event’s editorial director Alison Leigh (pictured) talks to realscreen of astronauts, authors and the digital world.

“The overview is that it’s not so much revolution as evolution this year,” says WCSFP editorial director Alison Leigh of this year’s sold-out event, which is welcoming just over 600 delegates.

Of the highlights for this year’s World Congress, she cites the varied group of guest speakers, including author Margaret Atwood and astronaut Chris Hadfield, and the digital universe session speakers, including Elise Andrew, the founder of the ‘I F**king Love Science’ Facebook page.

“The people who come to Congress are looking for more than a market,” says Leigh. “It’s a place to explore how science and history are communicated to the world. Margaret Atwood [pictured below] is a master storyteller. She has much to teach us all. Chris Hadfield has made outer space accessible to millions – every science producer in the business wants a slice of that.”

She also says the conference will address hot button topics for the science and factual producers attending, including the tension between fact and fiction, and the push for outlandish stunts in the quest for ratings.

margaret atwood. photo by adam benzine

Adapting the Oxford Union debate model, the ‘Stunts, Fakes and Manipulation – Is This What it Takes to Win Ratings?’ panel will pit two teams of three against each other to discuss the arguments for and against the tactics used to get eyeballs in factual.

“Another big topic is the speed of change where everyone can be a broadcaster in the digital universe – but where are the new business models and the new sources of funding?” asks Leigh.

“[With] the speed at which the industry is changing – YouTube, Netflix, Yahoo!, Hulu – everyone can be a broadcaster in the new Wild West, but where is the money coming from for these new ventures?” she adds. “As a producer, can you make any money from these new digital outlets? Is it possible to retain rights? Who pays? Is it a game worth playing?

“By introducing some of the stars of the blogosphere into the mix, we hope to give our delegates an insight into the kind of factual material that is attracting audiences in the digital universe.”

In addition to the sessions, the WCSFP is also offering for the first time an Emerging Producers Bursary Program, which enables producers under 35 years of age the opportunity to attend via financial support for accreditation, travel and accommodation.

“We recognize that opportunities to attend international events are limited for emerging producers, so this program will provide them with access to the event’s industry intelligence, professional development opportunities, and international community,” she says. “We hope this will assist them in expanding their projects and becoming active members of the WCSFP community.”

Bursaries were awarded to producers from Chile, Canada, the U.S., Ethiopia, Australia and Kenya. Another first for the Congress will be the location of next year’s edition: Beijing, China.

As for this year’s event, Leigh says she’s personally looking forward to having the opportunity to “sing along with the all-singing, all-dancing, all-Tweeting, utterly inspiring Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, our Friday ‘Spark of Inspiration.’”

  • This year’s WCSFP runs from December 3-6 in Montreal, Canada.
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