By Vivian Agaba
More journalists in Africa are taking on the science beat and the quality of reporting it is picking up, according to media experts.
Although there is no specific data on the number of science journalists in Africa, different reports indicate that more journalists on the continent are embracing science journalism reporting. Thus, science journalists have been advised to join science journalism networks to harvest the associated benefits.
Dr. Charles Wendo, training coordinator, SciDev.Net/CABI said by belonging to a science journalism Association, journalists can learn a lot from each other by sharing experiences, and within the networks the experienced science journalists can advise and mentor the young ones, and can also get feedback from their peers. As well Associations help the journalists access training opportunities, story grants all the while as they discuss common challenges and find solutions together.
“Finding sources can be a lot easier when you have a Network of science journalists who cooperate. It is also a good way of getting to know about important happenings that are relevant to journalists,” Dr. Wendo who is also a Vetinary doctor turned science journalist said. He added that belonging to a science journalism Association or Network also serves as some form of endorsement of the journalists. For anybody looking for a science journalist to work with, the best starting point is a science journalism association.
He said this while giving a lecture during a virtual meeting to celebrate Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA’s) 15-years of existence in mid-February. The lecture was titled: “Preparing for the future of Science Journalism in Africa. It was attended by science journalists from across Africa and friends of MESHA.
Speaking of the importance of belong to an Journalists Association.
Zahara Namuli, a senior Health News Reporter at NBS TV shares her experience. In 2019, she was among women journalists that won the continental Women in News (WIN) Leadership Accelerator Programme. The opportunity was shared in the Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) platform, where she is a member. She applied, and was accepted in the training.
The benefits for the successful applicants of this programme include: one-on-one coaching to create a 3-to-5 year career roadmap, certified media management training, gender balance in content training, leadership hubs and managing sexual harassment training. She says she has benefited a lot from this training and it has made her understand some of these topics better as well as creating a network with other journalists.
Expounding more about the future of Science journalism in Africa, Dr. Wendo pointed out some of the ways journalism is changing, the implications, and what journalists ought to do to move with the changing times and still thrive in the profession.
First, the news media still create content but digital platforms will control access to audiences, and this influences advertising revenue.
Secondly, people will have access to more diverse sources of information, implying there will be more competition for audiences. Thirdly, journalism is often losing battle for attention and trust. Many people are no longer interested in news (news avoidance).
“People turn off the news because it feels irrelevant and depressing and does not help them live their lives; they often turn to entertainment or social media instead,” he said. For instance, in an article by Antonis Kalogeropoulos, a lecturer with the Department of Communications and Media, which was originally published by `The Conversation’ reveals that when the Corona virus pandemic started to take hold in the UK in March, news consumption increased, as in many other countries. But, since then, their research shows that an increasing share of the UK population is switching off from the news.
In the same article, the proportion of people who say they often or always avoid news increased from 15% in mid-April 2020 to 22% in mid-May. If we include those who say they sometimes actively avoid news, then the share reaches 59%. The vast majority of these who often or always avoid news, told us that they actively avoid news about coronavirus (87%).
Dr. Wendo also noted that the media are facing a tougher business environment, leading to cost-cutting, job cuts and less funding for stories.
However, amid all these challenges, the media practitioners are becoming more innovative to try and remain competitive and on top of the game.
Dr. Wendo shares important tips how science journalists can manoeuvre through the changes and prepare for future journalism.
- Tell topical and timely science stories
- Humanise the science
- Make the story relevant to people’s needs and aspirations
- Make the stories engaging and relatable for the audiences.
- Do more than just translate scientific facts presented by the scientists.
- Look beyond the press releases.
- Develop story ideas from the world around you.
- Do more than just speak to scientists, and while when lifting stories from abroad, select relevant stories and add local context.
“Tell stories that sell, master how to earn a living, seek learning opportunities, keep in touch with scientists, understand the basics of science and develop the ability to challenge science.
The stories also need to be more accessible, timely, informative, interactive and engaging to compete.
A recent report, More Important, But Less Robust? Five things everybody needs to know about the future of journalism, based on recent research conducted at the Reuters Institute highlights 5 things everybody needs to know about the future of journalism:
- We have moved from a world where media organisations were gatekeepers to a world where media still create the news agenda, but platform companies control access to audiences
- This move to digital media generally does not generate filter bubbles. Instead automated serendipity and incidental exposure drive people to more and more diverse sources of information
- Journalism is often losing the battle for people’s attention and in some countries for the public’s trust
- The business models that fund news are challenged, weakening professional journalism and leaving news media more vulnerable to commercial and political pressures
- News is more diverse than ever, and the best journalism in many cases better than ever, taking everyone from the most powerful politicians to the biggest private companies
The report argues that these five trends will play out – with variation due to cultural, economic, political, and social context – across the globe in years to come.
Steve Werblow, the Vice President, International Federation of Agricultural Journalists in his opening remarks applauded MESHA for withstanding the storms the journalism profession is facing globally to create a mark in the region and being an inspiration around the world.
He said we are living in an era where reporters around the world have been threatened, attacked, imprisoned and the media is called an army of the people, science has been politicized and ignored, but MESHA has defied all these times and brought together people around science.
Speaking from USA, Steve acknowledged that MESHA has built bonds that build synergies and educated the audiences about science related issues such as climate change, water, COVID-19, and just as vital, have educated each other in their respective science media cafes, science magazines and blogs.
“You have reached out across the region and beyond borders. The quality of journalism and dedication that you have demonstrated is just tremendous. You are an inspiration around the world. Let us work together to build a strong and professional journalism,” he stated
Violent Otindo, the MESHA Chairperson thanked the Association’s leaders who are exceptionally talented, hardworking, dedicated and committed to accomplishments and success of the association. She pointed out that the association’s ongoing success would be impossible without the committed leaders. “Thank you to all of our founder leaders who continue to believe in us and help us endure and thrive throughout the years. We celebrate this milestone occasion because of you.” Otindo stated
She however reminded the leaders and members that in the midst of the celebration, it is not the time to sit back and become complacent.
“We must continue to focus and execute on the things we do well and develop the areas in our association that need improvement. It is time to reflect on the wisdom gained and on the successes and lessons learned along this journey.
Aghan Daniel, the substantive Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and MESHA Secretary pointed out that as an association, their goal is to ensure they grow the body (MESHA) and impact what is happening globally in the field of science journalism.
MESHA is a model African science journalists association. It was started in November 2005, with only five members, but currently, it has 70 members in Kenya and 80 in 20 other countries in Africa.
From inception, their main goal was to deliver exceptional Science news to help Kenyans be informed and empowered conscious of emerging issues in agriculture, environment and health issues …. And lately I innovations. But overtime, their goal has expanded beyond Kenya and encompasses other African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi to mention but a few.
The association continues to serve the media community in delivering quality services that empower beginning, middle and seasoned journalists as well as communication officers, government and non-governmental organizations.
MESHA is a member of World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) as well as a member of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.
As some speakers said during the virtual celebrations, let’s wait and see what the next 15-years have in store for MESHA.