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‘How Science reporting can drive sustainable development goals’

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Ms Seema Kumar, Vice President of Innovation, Global Health and Policy Communication at Johnson &Johnson,

…NEF scientists demand new strategy, training for journalists

Scientists gathering at the Kigali Convention Centre, Rwanda for the Next Einstein Forum, NEF, Tuesday agreed that science journalism in Africa had potentials to drive the continent’s sustainable development goals but suffered a number of setbacks.

A side event put together by Johnson and Johnson, a healthcare organisation, examined Africa Science Journalism and identified skill gaps, funding issues, stereotyping of stories and lack of professional networking as major challenges in Africa.

Vice President of Innovation, Global Health and Policy Communication at Johnson &Johnson, Ms Seema Kumar, harped on need for “much more training for science journalists and editors in Africa.” She described funding as “an important piece of the puzzle,” and announced what she described as the “champions of story-telling challenge” to foster competition and unearth “hidden stories in science.”

Scores of journalists, who attended the workshop at the sidelines of the ongoing NEF global gathering of scientists in Kigali, sought global collaboration in funding and reorientation for news managers on science reporting.

A lot of science stories remain untold in Africa because news managers lack understanding of basic science, said Christopher Bendana, who freelances for the New Vision, a local newspaper in Uganda.

Andrew Mambondiyani, a Zimbabwean freelance journalist, thinks “there is lack of dialogue and understanding between scientists and journalists, and this makes it difficult for reporters to come up with interesting stories.” At the same time, many news organisations feel science stories don’t sell and therefore not good for business; hence, they focus on political stories,” Mambondiyani told The Guardian.

Asked what he thought was the solution, he said: “There is the need for journalists to make science stories exciting by giving them a human face.”

Africa Editor of online publication Quartz, Mr Yinka Adegoke, also decried the absence of Science in mainstreaming of media content and canvassed a more interpretative approach to science reporting. “ Many science journalists in Africa simply reproduce stories on health research and innovations without putting them in context,” he said.

“Some editors still think that science does not matter and, therefore, deserves less space; yet, science dominates our daily lives,” said Cape Town, South Africa-based journalist, Munyaradzi Makoni.

Ms Eloine Barry, the chief executive officer of the Africa Media Agency, AMA, a continental Public Relations and Newswire organisation, in a note to The Guardian said poor reporting and under-reporting of critical development issues in Africa have roots in editorial perception, cultural nuances and attitude to training and retraining in newsrooms.

“The science reporter’s first audience is the Editor; so it is crucial to train and re-train editors to appreciate science reporting,” Barry explained. “But the reporter must first be able to make the stories acceptable in content and context before pitching them to the Editor.



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