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[AMMAN] The world's first virtual science newsroom has been launched by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) as an experimental initiative to support the development of science journalism in Africa and the Middle East.

The Science Journalism Cooperation (SjCOOP) newsroom was announced in Amman, Jordan, earlier this month (8–11 October) at an establishing session held as part of the cooperation's member conferece.

SjCOOP is a three-year training scheme for aspiring science journalists in Africa and the Arab world, which developed the newsroom. The WFSJ launched the second phase of SjCOOP in January 2010  — due to end in December — aiming to train 80 science journalists in their own language (Arabic, English or French).

"For journalists, as well as for editors, this first virtual scientific newsroom … is a beautiful little door that has been opened, and tremendous opportunities and potential can emerge from this experimental initiative," said Gervais Mbarga, contact for the virtual newsroom intiative and regional coordinator of the Francophone Africa SjCOOP programme.

Mbarga explained that journalists who pass phase two of SjCOOP with distinction will produce the content for the newsroom, while eight editors from different science media platforms in Africa and the Middle East will commission, edit and publish their work on their platforms.

According to Olfa Labassi, the SjCOOP project manager, the virtual newsroom will initially run for next two months, until the end of phase two, then "[the] WFSJ will decide how to develop it". Labassi told SciDev.Net that they are working now on the SjCOOP phase three proposal and hope to launch it by 2013.  

Labassi said that SjCOOP mentees are contributing to the dissemination of science information to the public nationally and regionally and that training them in high quality science journalism is "the best way to help move their societies".

Commenting on how she has benefitted from SjCOOP, Jihene Dayaa, a mentee from Tunisia, said that the quality of her stories is now very different.

"Before joining … I was just [writing] superficial scientific news, but now I am trained to write stories that contain analysis and good documentation, and that include diversity in my sources."

Nehal Lasheen, one of the Middle East mentors, said that "phase three of SjCOOP will have to target comprehensive training to graduate science journalists who can produce multimedia stories".