Al Jazeera America hires ‘Popular Science’ editor in chief Jacob Ward

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Jacob Ward. (Screen cap via Vimeo)
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Nicole Levy

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Popular Science’s Jacob Ward is leaving the magazine to join Al Jazeera America as the channel’s science and technology news correspondent, the television channel announced today.

The hiring sets Al Jazeera apart from news channels like CNN, which cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff in 2008, a decision critics called misguided and disheartening.

“They’re interested in making science and technology a priority,” Ward said of Al Jazeera’s management in a phone interview with Capital. “They want to know what the Kepler [satellite] is up to; they want to know where we are in the fight against cancer.”

Ward, 39,  has made a career in magazines of digesting complex scientific concepts for the masses; now he's switching to an even more populist medium.

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“I’m not by any means a trained scientist, but I’ve made a career of being a translator of science. It’s a huge responsibility to boil down the complexities of research into a story that the layman can understand,” said Ward, whose writing on science and technology has appeared in The New Yorker and Wired, and whose pet topics include driverless cars and private space travel.

He's not a total stranger to television audiences. According to his website, Ward has made regular appearances as an on-air science and technology analyst and he’s hosted shows on PBS and the Discovery and National Geographic Channels. Nonetheless, he still finds the prospect of listening to one person on his anchor’s earpiece while conducting a live interview via satellite with another daunting: “It’s going to be terrifying in the beginning, I’m sure.”

Ward’s first segment for Al Jazeera will cover Syria’s disarmament, illuminating the process by which chemical weapons are destroyed.

Whereas news sense is subjective on a lot of journalism beats, Ward said, “it’s so cool to be dealing in something that has absolute value, like science does.”

At Popular Science, where Ward became deputy editor in 2006 and editor in chief in 2012, executive editor Cliff Ransom will take over as interim EIC. Ward will be based in San Francisco.