EurekAlert! Celebrates 20 Years at the Forefront of Science Communication

Founded at the dawn of the Internet, EurekAlert! is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a one-stop service for reporters seeking access to embargoed journal articles and news releases on science topics from thousands of institutions worldwide.

“You couldn’t possibly work as an international science reporter without checking EurekAlert!,” said Clive Cookson, science editor of The Financial Times. “You just miss too many stories.”

Adds Craig Welch, an environment writer at National Geographic: “With its timely links to new studies and review papers published in the top peer-reviewed journals, EurekAlert! is a source-finder, story tip sheet, and reality-check in one. It’s essential for any journalist attempting to cover the sciences.”

Since its launch on May 20, 1996, the online news service, operated by AAAS under the guidance of an independent advisory group, has become a fixture in science journalism. Nearly 12,000 reporters worldwide have so far registered for access to embargoed materials and more than 10,000 public information officers have registered to provide new releases about research at their institutions.

PIOs may also submit news release translations in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese. (While EurekAlert! staffers review releases against longstanding eligibility guidelines, contributing institutions are responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to the site.)

Beyond serving as a gateway to breaking research news, EurekAlert! has broadened its international reach by working with reporters and press officers in China and Japan to build capacity to communicate their scientific advances to the world.

“EurekAlert! was a groundbreaking innovation when it launched two decades ago, and we’re constantly expanding and improving our services to reporters, PIOs – and increasingly the public – using the latest tools,” said Patrick McGinness, director of web technologies for EurekAlert!.

“Serving reporters and PIOs will always be our first and foremost priority,” said Brian Lin, director of editorial content strategy. “But as part of the non-profit AAAS, we are also in a unique position to encourage broad communication of science internationally and to facilitate public engagement with the latest scientific research. As we look to the next two decades, those interconnected goals will guide us in everything we do.”

Brian Lin at the PIO workshop in Chengdu in October 2015, EurekAlert!’s first professional development event held in China. | Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

EurekAlert! Chinese, a successful Chinese-language version of the website, was launched in 2007. The service carries bilingual news releases and promotes bilateral science communication through professional development seminars for public information officers in China, including four such seminars during the past year. A seminar in October 2015 in Chengdu was organized with the help of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “It was wildly popular with attendees and many have expressed a desire to continue pursuing such high-quality training,” said Gong Haihua, communications supervisor of the academy’s Bureau of International Cooperation. “We hope to continue developing similar collaborations and workshops in the future.”

Lin of  EurekAlert! said he wants to increase the number of PIOs from non-U.S. institutions (about 60% of PIO registrants currently are from the United States). “We’re trying to diversify the content to get a better international mix,” he said.

One such step was the launch in 2014 of a re-designed Japanese portal in partnership with 19 institutions from the Network of Research Universities of Japan. Through the efforts of the cooperating institutions, the number of news releases from Japanese institutions increased more than eight-fold from 2014 to 2015 (from 18 to 158) and continues to rise. There have been 168 releases submitted to the portal already this year.

EurekAlert! has supported early-career reporters from developing regions through travel fellowships to the AAAS Annual Meeting, where they can interact with scientists, policymakers, and their journalist peers with ”no strings attached” on what they choose to write. The program, started in 2004, has so far supported 59 travel fellows from China, India, Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, EurerkAlert! has increased its direct contact with the wider public through beefed up social media initiatives, a new email newsletter on trending topics on its site, and improved portals to spotlight important areas such as climate change, marine science, and cancer research.

On the social-media front, EurekAlert! joined Twitter in September 2009 and now has 26,300 followers. It has 15,500 fans on Facebook and 150,000 followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

But Lin said the over-riding mandate remains providing timely, responsive service to reporters who must cope with the enormous amount of information generated by the global scientific community.

As Nick Stockton wrote in a piece on EurekAlert! for Wired, the service grew out of a desire by a group of university press officers for a centralized, online hub for science press releases. They soon realized the cost would be prohibitive without at least a dozen shareholders chipping in. They approached Nan Broadbent, then communications director for AAAS, who took on the challenge, organized a meeting of key players in the spring of 1996 and launched the news service as an independent arm within AAAS. The site would not only include access to studies published by AAAS journals such as Science—it would include embargoed access to studies from a number of other top journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Cell, and The Astrophysical Journal.

“AAAS was fortunate to work with a number of early advisors, including public information officers like Dennis Meredith and David Salisbury, as well as journalists like Robert Lee Hotz of The Wall Street Journal, who played a key role in the development of EurekAlert!,” said Ginger Pinholster, the current chief communications officer for AAAS. “They and many others brought good ideas to the table, and worked closely with us to develop the concept and the guidelines that have allowed the site to thrive.”

As Hotz puts it, “EurekAlert! is the Swiss Army Knife of science websites, offering instant access to new research from an impressive range of influential, peer-reviewed journals.”

The site now serves 11,989 reporter registrants from 90 nations (with about half of the registrants from the United States) and 10,071 PIO registrants, representing 6,000 institutions. Up to 200 news releases are submitted to the site each day. As of this writing, there are 298,804 news releases in the EurekAlert! database and 105,000 multimedia items: images, videos, and audio. From January 2015 to March 2016, the site had an average of 2 million page views per month by 775,000 unique visitors.