Initiative to build African science journalism capacity


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  • Two-year initiative will fund African science journalists to report science
  • Initial focus will be on those from Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa
  • Project could boost quality of science journalism and create societal impact

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[GRAHAMSTOWN, SOUTH AFRICA] A two-year programme has been launched to build capacity of science journalists and improve science coverage in Africa.

It was launched this month (1 September) with the aim of recognising the important role of science journalism in promoting Africa’s socioeconomic development.

The project is being funded by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in partnership with the African Federation of Science Journalists (AFSJ) and the South African Science Journalists Association, according to Deborah-Fay Ndlovu, the project’s manager and the communication manager of AAS, without disclosing the total funding for the project.

“Not many African science journalists have the capacity to write good articles, hence they require hand-holding.”

Deborah-Fay Ndlovu, The African Academy of Sciences (AAS)

The project will focus on strategic areas of the AAS including health and wellbeing, climate change, food security and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with targeted journalists from Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa in the first phase.

After the successful implementation of the project in the four countries, it will be opened to more countries in Africa such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Ndlovu tells SciDev.Net that most publications in Africa are closing due to insufficient funding, and few focus on science: “This make many science stories not to be published in African media houses.”
“Not many African science journalists have the capacity to write good articles, hence they require hand-holding,” adds Ndlovu.

Through the project, journalists will be mentored in science reporting by senior science journalists in Africa and the rest of the world to refine and improve their pitches, help them build stories and eventually report credible articles.
“This will contribute to the quality of science reporting in Africa, hence creating an impact to the society and increase awareness for more funding,” Ndlovu explains.

Mandi Smallhorne, president of the AFSJ and an executive board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists, says strong science journalism is essential to development and democracy in Africa: “Science is a foundation stone of development, but if people don’t fully understand it, they can’t make voting choices that will support wise development.”

The challenges and the opportunities that face African countries today and in the foreseeable future are in many ways science-related.

“We need journalists who are able to read and interrogate scientific papers, and … interview scientists and retell their stories so that lay audiences can understand them,” notes Smallhorne, adding that science journalists are key to helping people understand many issues including climate change impacts, the causes of fatal mudslides such as the recent one in Sierra Leone, new seed technologies, renewable energy choices or new epidemics.

Smallhorne, a freelance science journalist based in South Africa, urges African governments to support science journalists because they can help boost African science by turning the spotlight on scientific research being conducted on the continent.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.