Best Science Journalists in the Balkans 2016

The Balkan Network of Science Journalists invited its members to nominate science writers who excelled in 2017. The board of the BNSJ narrowed this down to three joint winners from three countries, Croatia, Montenegro and Romania.

Here are the winners for this year.

From Romania, Luiza Vasiliu, who won for her investigation into controversial surgery practices.

Currently Luiza Vasiliu is the editor of Scena9, her own independent project that she started in 2016. Scena9 is a Romanian online publication that charts the local and global cultural scene -from the arts to science and society.

For six years (2010-2016), Luiza was a staff writer at Dilema Veche, the most prestigious cultural magazine în Romania. During that time she also freelanced aș a reporter for Casa Jurnalistului, platform for independent journalism; Decât o revistă, independent nonfiction quarterly magazine and Regard, magazine for the French-speaking community in Romania.

She covers cultural, social, medical, science and political stories and she demonstrated creativity and excellence throughout her work.

Luiza received numerous awards and grants for her outstanding work in narrative journalism and creative nonfiction. To mention only a couple: Best Portrait, Gala Superscrieri – Non-fictions that change the world, Friends for Friends Foundation, Bucharest (autumn 2015), Superscrierea anului, the prize for the best work of narrative journalism published in Romania in 2014, Superscrieri Awards – Non-fictions that change the world, Friends for Friends Foundation, Bucharest (Autumn 2014), „Storytelling for Social Good”, journalistic competition, ERSTE Foundation and Decât o revistă (Autumn 2012) etc.

In 2014, Luiza was granted the “Superscrierea anului” of the year award for another science story she wrote: “The Astrophysicists”,

What is truly remarkable about this story is the way the author took a really unsexy story and made it digestible and attractive for a nonspecialized audience, using self-irony and humor.

About Luiza’s investigation:

The most renowned pediatric orthopaedist in Romania has experimented with an uncertified implant on a little girl who was limping. Eleven surgeries later, the girl, who is now a young lady, can barely get out of bed.

The girl, Amira, is just one of many children scarred for life by a series of dangerous “innovative” interventions by famous orthopaedist Gheorghe Burnei, 65 years old. The doctor has experimented on countless kids, crippling them. Some of them died. Burnei was arrested on Saturday December 10th, one day after reporter Luiza Vasiliu of Casa Jurnalistului published the first article of her four-part series exposing his malpractice.

The reporter spent more than a year investigating malpractice allegations made by poor families with children crippled by Gheorghe Brunei. For years, the Romanian media has dubbed him a saint that performs “miracles”—he has allegedly succeeded in six world surgical premieres and dozens of national and local premieres that no one ever followed up on, not even when patients died. Most were pure marketing stunts, the investigation reveals, but brought him fame and numerous new patients.

Amira’s story is the first part of a series dismantling the myth of the omnipotent doctor, while also revealing the complicity of fellow doctors silenced by fear and poor moral character. The second part is about the death of a little girl during a failed surgery that shouldn’t have been done in the first place. In the third part of the investigation you can witness a day in the life of Dr. Burnei. The reporter followed him at the hospital and caught on camera his interactions and abusive behaviour towards patients and colleagues alike. The last part brings forth yet more cases of medical wrongdoing. Around 15 other families gave testimonies about Burnei’s methods: wrong diagnoses, operating on patients indiscriminately and asking for money.

Even if some of the instruments he needed for his surgeries were supposed to be covered by public health funds, he often referred families to private firms where he had connections.

Luiza Vasiliu’s investigation was truly 2016’s most important health story in the Romanian media landscape. It started a national conversation about complicity and guilt, the right to informed consent and second opinion, medical ethics and the media’s role in building the image and reputation of the doctors. The investigative series was thoroughly documented, including the scientific aspects.

The first two stories in the investigation were translated into English:

From Montenegro, Maria Bolevich, freelance reporter.

Maria Bolevich is a young but skilled science and environmental journalist from Montenegro. She covers topics from the wider region, including Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia. As a freelance journalist, she has been collaborating with many regional and international media including New Scientist, Anti-Media, Morocco World News…

Her articles on ecological disasters at Jablanica and Skadar lakes in Bosnia and Montenegro, respectively, published in New Scientist were especially noticed. She is a recipient of a number of noteworthy awards in her field of expertise and is also a very active and enthusiastic member of BNSJ. Her first article was published in Serbia 6 years ago. She participated in the South East European Science Journalism Workshop, regional workshop on science journalism which was held in September 2014 in Podgorica, Montenegro, and now three year later she is the chair of the board of the Association of Science Journalists of Montenegro, which she helped to establish in November 2016. She is a member of BNSJ and of the Association of Science Journalists of Croatia. This year she is planning to organize a few workshops about science journalism in Montenegro.

From Croatia, Vedrana Simicevic, reporter at Novi List newspaper.

Vedrana Simicevic is that rare breed of journalist: employed at a big regional newspaper and managing to writer regularly about sciences and education. She has recently also started freelancing for international media, including New Scientist magazine.

She has been at Novi List newspaper, based in Rijeka, Croatia, for 21 years now, and a background in social sciences and the humanities means she also writes about range of sciences, not just natural sciences. Her articles span a wide variety of topics, from international trends in scientific publishing and open access and national earthquake hazards to successes of local physicists and mathematicians working in big international research teams.

Such work brings forth overlooked topics, such as seismic risk, as well as making complex science relatable by humanising it with relatable locals who work on such science. She also covers issue from political sciences such as research on recent pressures on the western democracies and rising conformism among the new generation of young people in Croatia.

Working at a regional paper with both local focus on a national reach, she has managed to regularly get high quality long-form stories into the newspaper, helping inform, educate and inspire locals about key movements in science of both national and international importance. Simicevic is a type of journalist that every local and national paper should have, but few continue to do so unfortunately. The articles that represent her work:

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