SMASH ’18: Lisa Samford maps out this year’s event

In less than one week, the Science Media Awards & Summit in the Hub (SMASH) will open its doors in Boston. Produced by Jackson Hole WILD and American pubcaster WGBH Boston, ...
September 17, 2018

In less than one week, the Science Media Awards & Summit in the Hub (SMASH) will open its doors in Boston.

Produced by Jackson Hole WILD and American pubcaster WGBH Boston, the three-day biennial conference runs Sept. 25 – 27 at WGBH in Boston and brings together more than 300 scientists, producers, filmmakers, writers and technology innovators to honor and explore bleeding-edge technologies and approaches in science media.

“We believe our role with SMASH is to amplify the work of science storytellers that are connecting people with the world around them,” Lisa Samford, Jackson Hole WILD’s executive director and SMASH co-director, tells realscreen.

“There’s an incredible synergy and everyone who comes is committed to that notion.”

This year’s event is built around two keynote conversations that bookend the conference. Opening the festivities will be a keynote with Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of imaging technology company Openwater, in which she will demonstrate her latest invention with the potential to look deep into the body via high-resolution cameras.

Meanwhile, Deb Roy, former chief media scientist for Twitter who now directs the Lab for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab, will close out SMASH ’18 in an intimate discussion with Kara Miller, host and executive editor of WGBH’s Innovation Hub. The keynote will explore how the marriage of social media and artificial intelligence influences how we think and what we believe.

The summit will also host a myriad of panel conversations exploring a range of topics, including how immersive media is becoming essential for science storytelling (“Reality Check, Please”); securing production funding and distribution (“Under Which Rock: Where’s the Money?”); the successes and concerns of AI (“Artificial Intelligence: Savior or Enslaver?”); and whether big budget, prestige projects are still viable in today’s fragmented digital landscape (“Does Size Matter? Really Popular Science”).

“We’ve conceived of this conference as an idea conference, and because it’s an idea conference it really attracts some very high-level engagement and participation on the part of the commissioners and broadcasters,” Samford says.

“But we really think that a lot of what’s important happens between the margins, between the sessions, when people get together to talk about what they just experienced. It’s a different approach that seems to be working.”

SMASH will culminate with the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards ceremony. The awards recognize “innovation and excellence” in 20-plus categories that span content, program and craft sectors of science media, including Earth and Sky, Science of Life, Changing Planet, Health and Medicine, and more.

Finalists were selected from more than 500 project entries with 100-plus international judges screening an aggregated 1,250 hours of media in order to select the finalists.

Judges include science communicator Hashem Al-Ghaili; media producer Barry Clark; Lynn Hirshfield, Participant Media’s SVP of strategic alliances; Bob Hirshon, program director for technology and learning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and award-winning documentary producer Gianna Savoie.

“For both the Science Media Awards and for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, it really is about the combination of people because everybody has a different perspective,” Samford says. “We really want to get a diverse group at the table, and it actually begins with the preliminary judges.

“By the time things get to the final judges, we feel like we’ve really had diversity in terms of geography, culture, age, [and] interest represented in the preliminary process.”

The Jackson Hole Science Media Awards are slated for the final day of SMASH ’18, on the evening of Sept. 27 at the MIT Media Lab.

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