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Mark Tungate 2020-10-15

An award-winning science and technology journalist for Nature Research in the United States, Vivien Marx is one of the more unusual new members of our specialist jury. She will judge technology and public interest categories.


Why did you decide to become an Epica Awards jury member?

The query about joining the jury made all my inner journalistic warning lights flash bright red. The New Yorker in me – as opposed to my more circumspect Francophone side – blurted out my ethical reservations. What I then heard about the Epica Awards convinced me to say yes. Because, yes, I can be a jury member and stay a journalist.

What are your thoughts on the creative industry?

As a consumer, I consume advertising and public service announcements of all kinds. An open society has room for creative material of all types, including ads, and I embrace the format for what it is. An ad can make us hot for a product or service by the way a story is told.

In some ads, the representation of women and people of color has been irresponsible. Some advertising tries to present itself as journalism and that’s problematic. The Marlboro Man conveyed that smoking was a wild and free horseback ride to Machismo-land when the evidence of smoking as a leading cause of lung cancer was as clear as a bright Montana day. Such disinformation campaigns are not OK.

But plenty of work in creative advertising is breathtaking, for its concepts and ideas, for the sensory and emotional ride it takes take us on. It pulls us in, moves us, connects with us; it can make us laugh, cry; it can make us angry, leave us shocked. In that sense, it’s an art form and an influential part of our society. Many directors, cinematographers, graphics people, writers, artistes of many stripes and colors lend their skills and talent to the industry and their output is often stellar. I look forward to seeing such high-quality work and to embracing its narrative power for good.

Plenty of work in creative advertising is breathtaking

What makes a jury of journalists relevant for a creative competition?

We journalists might not be thought of as creative folk. We deal with facts. And we make well-reasoned decisions about what to include and why. That’s a useful skill for a jury member.

Much of what journalists do also involves creativity. We begin with a canvas. A blank page, a blank audio or video file beckons us. We want to make a something that is somehow special, different and responsible. We use all our senses to find the aspects of a story that matter. We want to tell others what we find out and tell it well.

We strive for quality in our work and recognize that the easier something flows, the more work – skill and craft – went into making it. We appreciate quality in the work of others. We have a keen eye for bullshit, silliness and lies.

Narrative arcs and techniques propel any creative product, just as they do our journalistic work. Journalists breathe, eat and drink the narrative they build. We want readers, viewers, listeners to stay with us and care. I think these journalism traditions and practices will inform my work as a member of the Epica jury well.

What would you look for in a potential winner?

I interview scientists for a living and their methods are the nice kind of contagious. When I screened potential acquisitions for the television network Arte, I developed criteria that suited our needs. Now I am riffing on this process to build an Epica scorecard of my own, using the criteria with which I will judge the work. I want to assess systematically, fairly and with heart and mind. Stay tuned.

Narrative arcs and techniques propel any creative product, just as they do our journalistic work

Can your experience as a journalist for a scientific publication bring value to the evaluation of public interest campaigns, notably the Covid-19 Communication category?

As someone who covers science at Nature Research, I encounter many fabulous researchers. They are academics and scientists at companies, junior and senior scientists, Nobel Laureates and graduate students. Some try to sell me “their” science with hyperbole. But most researchers thoughtfully weigh the evidence about what they know when they respond to questions I ask.

My editors and colleagues vet submissions from labs across scientific disciplines from around the world. If the work is not high quality, and much of it unfortunately is not, it is not accepted for publication. The editors are just as rigorous with my stories. Which means I am always on the tips of my toes about factual accuracy, even when clad in sneakers.

Especially on the subject of COVID-19, the information landscape is littered with false information about the virus, how it travels, what it does and does not do, how it can be thwarted. The world does not, in my view, need one additional nanoparticle of this kind of pollution.

I am professionally and morally committed to accuracy related to science and technology: it’s simply part of my identity and built into my tasks for a renowned science publisher. Now is a time to care about the best ways to get accurate and good public interest messages out there, in all thinkable formats.

When a wrong story is told well, that might “wow” some. But my everyday teaches me to not be seduced into a “wow”. A planet on which science is sidelined is not a good, enlightened one. A creative product that is harmful disinformation, however “wow” it might be in terms of format or narrative, will get a poor ranking from me.

In my view, we need good science in the creative messages about all matters relating to health, science and technology. I am sure many Epica entries are going to be in those categories and I trust that we jurors will see some fabulous work.

We need good science in the creative messages about all matters relating to health, science and technology

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